Situated on 180 breathtaking acres in the shadows of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, Camp Robin Hood (CRH) works hard to instill in campers, counselors, and staff alike kindness and a deep reverence for environmental stewardship.

With a goal of preserving and protecting the pristine natural setting in which the camp has operated for 97 years, CRH initiated a comprehensive sustainability program during the summer of 2023 encompassing paper and plastic recycling, water conservation efforts, and most importantly, composting. Due to the scale of the camp’s operation, traditional food composting was not an option. In an effort to divert and reuse otherwise wasted carbon, Camp Robin Hood harnessed the power of food waste by partnering with Casella Waste Systems — becoming the first camp in the world to install a Grind2Energy food processing system to prevent food waste from going straight to landfills. 

The only full-circle, closed-loop food waste recycling system of its kind, the system recycles food scraps into clean water and renewable energy in the form of electricity, heat, or compressed natural gas. Here’s how it works: organic food waste is collected after every meal at camp and placed into the grind chamber. The resulting slurry goes into a holding tank, and a liquid waste hauler transports the slurry to a local anaerobic digestion facility. The facility recycles the food slurry by recovering water and converting captured methane into renewable energy. The remaining nutrient-rich organic material can be used as a natural fertilizer to grow new food. The system recycles all kinds of inedible food, such as fats, oils, and grease. In one summer alone, the camp diverted more than 50 tons of food waste from landfills and converted it into biogas. The program also saved approximately eight hours a day in labor that would have been used to transport food waste to the trash disposal area.

“This has not only helped us exponentially in our goal to become a zero-waste facility, but has also taught our campers and staff about the importance of sustainability,” says Camp Robin Hood Owner/Director Richard Woodstein, a former camper and staff member who purchased the camp in 2003 with close friend and fellow CRH camper David Solomon. “By modeling environmental stewardship at camp and reinforcing the idea that small actions every day can make an enormous impact, we are helping to ensure that future generations have a safe, healthy, and beautiful world to live in. Being kind to each other and the environment is our secret sauce.”

Augmenting its food waste program, CRH invested in a bailer system to capture aluminum, cardboard, and plastics for recycling. These materials are collected, bailed, and sent straight back to the manufacturing process. During just seven weeks, the camp diverted four tons of cardboard, 500 pounds of aluminum, and nearly 300 pounds of plastic from landfills. Together with the food waste recycling, the program helped the camp achieve an 80-percent diversion rate for the first summer.

“If we have inspired even half of our campers to go back into their communities and help implement some of these environmental practices, we will have accomplished our mission to change lives, give back, and make a difference,” says Woodstein, who challenges campers every day to do something that makes a positive impact on the environment. 

“Kindness and respect for each other and our environment are what our world needs more of. It’s our job to leave the world a better place; to do whatever we can to make sure others can enjoy what we all sometimes take for granted,” Woodstein continued. “From our head counselor Chuck Illig, now in his 58th year at Camp Robin Hood, to our youngest six-year-old campers, everyone rallied together to make our environment initiatives so successful; and we could not be prouder to have made a difference. We look forward to continuing to build on our environmental efforts for many, many years to come.”

Cindy Elliott is a writer and brand storytelling strategist based in Seal Beach, California, specializing in nonprofit communications.

Photo courtesy of Camp Robin Hood, Freedom, NH.