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North Park School for Innovation turning waste into fuel and fertilizer for its campus

The elementary school in Fridley is using state-of-the-art techniques to turn trash and recycling into valuable resources, on this week's "Communities that KARE."

FRIDLEY, Minnesota — North Park School for Innovation isn't your average elementary school. Sure, you learn your reading, writing, and arithmetic, but you will also learn the in's and out's of environmental sustainability. 

The Columbia Heights Public Schools and North Park invested in a bio-digester from Waste Water Panels; theirs is one of only four in the country. 

Oscar Kokes, a 4th grader, broke down how it works for us, saying, "We can turn trash and recycling [into] compost, mostly into energy, heat, and dirt for the garden." 

Food or organic waste is sorted and emptied into the bio-digester, which breaks down the waste in just 10 hours, versus the 10 months it would take naturally. 

Rich Hirstein is the director of sales for Waste Water Panels. He went into the specifics of how the bio-digester does its magic. 

"They use heat (160 degrees), and then [a] little bit of moisture, and it breaks that down in a much quicker manner than it would have done in a regular compost pile," he said. As a result, the compost is turned into biomass fuel to warm the school during winter and also nutrient-rich fertilizer. 

"We're able to make a useful product that we can then put into the garden instead of treating it as garbage and putting that into landfills," explained Wes Nugteren, an agriculture specialist for Columbia Heights Public Schools. He's seen a significant difference in the way the plants look, saying, "The plants seem really vigorous and healthy despite the really dry drought conditions that we've had this summer."

The bio-digester is also fueling lesson plans. North Park School for Innovation's principal, Jeff Cacek, explained that the school is building curriculum and programming around the bio-digester for a good chunk of the summer. And, he says, "We're looking forward to kicking it off and just having it be another facet of our STEM education and our sustainability education."

The bio-digester cost around $70,000, but it also came with a biomass boiler to help heat the school. 


North Park School for Innovation is a PreK 4-grade 5 school focused on STEM, creativity, and sustainability. Check out their YouTube page for more information. 

Waste Water Panels, LLC (“WWP”) is a provider of proven green technologies that manages all forms of waste streams such as wood, food waste, farm residuals, rendering remains, and effluent. WWP’s aim is to influence a lasting and transformational benefit to schools, grocery stores, manufacturers, restaurants, farms, commercial businesses, and help political subdivisions/municipalities meet their environmental and sustainability goals by limiting the waste that ends up in landfills to zero or near zero. WWP has offices in Bethesda, MD, Minneapolis, MN and Vancouver, BC.


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