All posts by wefuturecycle

Grants From The Carton Council Make Composting Possible at Westchester Schools

There are two concern that make school leaders hesitant to start lunchroom recycling & composting.

The first concern is the fear of change. Administrators and custodians are worried that composting will create more work in the lunchroom, and sorting lunchroom leftovers may be too challenging for their students. However, as more schools have adopted the We Future Cycle program, and as residential composting has taken off in Westchester, these concerns have subsided. School leaders realize that composting is an important part of a healthy community, and they are now fully on board at the start.

The second concern is money. While implementing and maintaining a recycling and composting program at a school is minuscule compared to many school expenses, every penny counts. We try to use existing bins at the school because reusing is both economical and sustainable. However often some bins need to be purchased, along with signage and compost bags. Annual compost pick up costs several thousand dollars per year. And We Future Cycle must charge a nominal fee to maintains school-required insurance and ensure we can bring in enough people to help educate students and monitor compost bins at an ever-growing number of schools as we expand our reach. Volunteers are wonderful, but most districts do not have a sufficient number of stay-at-home parents who can dedicate enough time to helping us launch and sustain our programs.

What is a school to do? Enter Carton Council, willing to contribute funds to make the We Future program a reality at many schools!

Formed in 2009, the Carton Council is an organization committed to growing carton recycling in the U.S. By promoting both recycling technology and local collection programs, as well as growing awareness that cartons are recyclable, they work to limit the number of cartons that become waste.  Since Westchester County’s Material Recycling Facility (MRF) began recycling milk cartons and Tetra Pak containers in May 2016, the Carton Council’s mission to increase carton recycling and We Future Cycle’s mission to increase lunchroom recycling and composting were perfectly aligned.

Carton Council grants have been provided to schools in Rye Neck and Mount Vernon. New schools that join the We Future Cycle family will have the option to obtain a Carton Council grant as well. We are seeing that the grants are having a huge impact on schools’ abilities to work with us, and we are enormously grateful to the Carton Council for making composting a reality at so many Westchester schools!

Mt Vernon Graham first graders study worms and their importance in this world

Imagine 30 first graders and one bin of worms? Well, We Future Cycle has been hired to bring sustainability programs to the district. In addition to the hands on sorting in the lunchroom, we go into the classrooms to teach students about other environmental aspects. One of my personal favorite is going into a first grade class with a worm bin.

Students learn the importance of all life, not matter how little, no matter how weird. Did you know that worms breathe through their skin? And they are hermaphrodites?  And they don’t lay eggs, nor live babies, but cocoons containing two to three live worms.

Students learned about muscle functions and it is cutest to see them feel their own biceps flexing to understand the interaction of muscles to achieve movement.

Getting up close and dirty with a handful of worms allowed them to observe the muscle movements, check out size differences and stare intently at the translucent tail section of the worm to get a glimpse of the internal castings. (for the intrepid reader…castings are worm poop)

Graham’s first graders now know that our world would not be the same without worms.

By the end, every worm had a name.

Rye Neck’s Daniel Warren Elementary Students Prove Kindergarteners Can Compost!

One of the questions we frequently get asked is “How will Kindergarteners be able to compost in the lunchroom? Will they really be able to sort their lunch leftovers?”

Our resounding answer is alway “YES!,” and Daniel Warren Elementary School students proved that during their launch of the We Future Cycle program in October 2019.

Following the launch at F.E. Bellows in Rye Neck, which is a grade 3-5 school, We Future Cycle took on teaching the K-2 students at Daniel Warren about composting. Principal Tara Goldberg was very engaged in the launch. She is present during the entire 1 hr lunch period (1/2 hour for grade 2, 1/2hr for Kindergarten, and 1st grade is split up between the 2 lunch periods), which enabled her to optimize the flow of students as they came up to the 2 recycling & composting stations to sort their leftovers. We tried 3 set-ups before we arrived at a system which got the students through the lines most quickly! That is the right way to implement any innovative program like composting; launch with the best plan you have, but be flexible and optimize as time goes on.

The custodial team, led by Tom Tempesta, was enthusiastic about giving input to make the process seamless for them. The aides all jumped in to help; they immediately saw the benefit of recycling and composting and were eager to help the students sort their leftovers properly. Teachers take turns helping kids in the lunchroom – a practice which was common decades ago but is now uncommon in Westchester schools – which is a great way for educators to observe their students in a social environment and also help extend environmental education into their classrooms.

And, the parents, wow! We had parent volunteers from the start, and their dedication was impressive. We Future Cycle monitors the lunchroom stations for 2 weeks during the launch period, but then we leave the program in the hands of a champion at the school. The parents created their own monitoring schedule so they could continue to support the program when We Future Cycle moves on to launch other schools. And while we rely on administrators, aides, and custodians to keep the program operating on a daily basis, We Future Cycle checks in at each school twice per month to make sure everything is humming along smoothly.

The results at Daniel Warren were almost identical to the results at F.E. Bellow. 92% of the lunchroom waste was diverted into composting and recycling:

Liquid: 6lbs (10% of total weight)
Commingled (hard plastics and aluminum for recycling): 10lbs (16%)
Compost (food and paper): 34lbs (56%)
Trays (also will be composted): 6lbs (10%)
Trash: 5lbs (8%)
Total weight: 61lbs

Our only challenge is the many non-recyclable and ever-changing food service items. The Daniel Warren lunchroom has a cooler of water (which is preferable to single-use water bottles), but at one point there were 3 different cups next to the water cooler – one was a plastic recyclable cup, one was a paper compostable cup, and a third was a paper/plastic blend cup which would go in the trash! It is unnecessarily complicated when lunchrooms have an excessive number of single use items that must be sorted at the composting and recycling station, and we try to work with food service to make the packaging more simple.

Thank you to the Rye Neck PTSA for bringing this program to the Rye Neck elementary schools and for their financial and volunteer commitment to this initiative. We look forward to bringing the program to the MS/HS in the near future!

White Plains students examine organic and inorganic materials in the environment

“How does bread interact with water?”  that was the question Mamaroneck Avenue School second graders had to answer in a slightly messy, hands-on science experiment. Followed up by “How does plastic interact with water?”.

Learning about organic and inorganic materials and how these interact in the environment with water and wind was the basis for We Future Cycle’s presentation to second graders.

Students learned about the problems related to littering. They learned that plastic does not break down in the environment and lasts forever and effects wild life as it enters the food chain.

Watching a video about how the street litter makes it through our rain water sewer systems into the ocean and just how big the plastic problem is was eye opening to them. Footage of divers swimming through a soup of floating garbage made them collectively groan. And seeing animals dying from ingesting plastic made this problem personal to them.

Each class started a lively discussion on how every student can be the solution to the problem. Each student had brilliant ideas and wrote about them in their daily workbook.

We Future Cycle’s motto is “Creating a generation of kids that care” and these MAS students are an inspiration to all.

Mt Vernon Hamilton first graders examine the role of worms in the environment

Nothing is more fun than going into a classroom with a worm bin and teaching first graders about how every living being has a really important job to do.

Picture1The initial reactions of the little ones is a long drawn out “uuuhhhhh”, when I show them pictures of my worms and tell them how much I love them. They usually look at me with disbelief. And then they learn about all the fabulous things that only worms can do for us, and without that, our world would truly be in dire straits.

Students learned how worms breathe and upon learning that it is through their skin, they all rubbed their arm in disbelief. They learned about the function of muscles and it was very cute to watch them flex their biceps repeatedly, imitating contraction.

They learned about how much worms can eat, how they are the cleaning crew of our world. As they are translucent, one can actually observe the castings ( worm speak for “bathroom business number 2”) pass through their body and students learned how they are connected to healthy soils and plant life. I was blown away that all students knew that plants gave us oxygen (yes they used that word!) and food.

They learned how worms reproduced and all were very busy looking for cocoons and to identify what age a worm might have based on its size. BTW, just in case the intrepid reader wants to know. Worms have both male and female organs, but two worms still need to mate, and then both can have about 5 cocoons per week. Each cocoon contains  2-3 itsy bitsy live worms, that will stay for about 45 days in the cocoon until its time to hatch. It takes 6-10 weeks to grow to adulthood and they have a lifespan of 3-5 years (quite astonishingly long)

The lesson was capped with a wet paper towel in front of the kids, with a handful of worms on it to get up close and personal with them. Students learned that every living being has an important job to do and deserve our respect.

Mt Vernon students start bringing reusable water bottles to school, ditching single serve packaging

We Future Cycle just implemented its recycling program in Graham Elementary School. Students learned about what happens to garbage and where it goes. They saw pictures of landfills and garbage filled lakes and coastal waters. They also learned about how personal choices in what we buy and what we consume make a difference, every single day.

I usually share with students my personal dislike for single serve juice pouches. The sandwiched material of plastic, aluminum foil and plastic is non-recyclable and such a terrible waste of infinitely valuable aluminum foil.

Most people do not think about the environmental cost of the materials they touch every day.

What does it take to make a water bottle, what does it take to make aluminum foil?

We are usually too busy to just get our days organized and it is so convenient to grab something single serve wrapped. And our language of casually saying “I am just going to throw this away”, as if there was a magic poof that made garbage disappear.

Mount Vernon students are learning that there is no away, when it comes to garbage. It goes either to a landfill or to the incinerator, neither is a good place for our environment, and both have lasting damaging effect to all communities around them.

On day two, after learning about how their actions count and make a difference, I was approached by a group of 4th graders proudly displaying their new reusable water bottles, and saying that -from now- they will make a difference every day !

It was very heart warming. Changing the heart of children is what it takes to make generational change.20191206_122417

New Rochelle Junior becomes Environmental Activist

Meet Anthony Baker, a Junior at New Rochelle HS. He can remember that at some point in his elementary school times at Trinity elementary school, We Future Cycle got hired and eliminated Styrofoam trays from the schools and started the recycling program that is running in all schools. By now, it is normal behavior for students to walk up to the station and quickly sort their lunch waste into recyclable packaging, non recyclable materials and organic materials to be composted.

Anthony has recently decided to become more active and fight for even more change. He went to a recent Board of Education meeting to present the need to remove even more single use plastics from our lunchrooms.

Recently, he wrote this letter to his former elementary school principal. These are powerful words and I asked his permission to post his letter publicly.

Dear Mr. Hildebrand, 
My name is Anthony Baker, I am a junior at New Rochelle High School. You may or may not remember me, I spoke at the board of education meeting at Albert Leonard. I went to Trinity and I am extremely passionate about the environment.
I consider Trinity to be the birthplace of my passion, for it was there that I was taught how to recycle, how to reduce, and how to reuse. Trinity was the first place I was exposed to environmental issues and it was the first place that I became aware of the planet on which we live. I remember watching a brainpop video in my second grade CILA class about climate change; I remember feeling scared, and hopeless. 
I remember when I used to be served lunch on styrofoam trays in the Trinity cafeteria, I always used to use my plastic fork to poke holes in my tray. I realize now that this whole picture was just wrong. Now our cafeterias are void of styrofoam but this picture has two parts. Not just styrofoam but also plastic. Plastic is the cancer of our dying world. Our planet is infested with tumors of plastic, slowly choking her organs, day after day after day. I wonder how much longer our planet can even sustain itself with our plastic output. But this factor of fear, this image of destruction, this is what deters so many from action. We all fall into the closed mentality that it is a problem that is too big to fix; we feel guilty, we feel like victims. And at the worst, we are forced to recognize our own error. Our collective human error. We share a sense of mutual guilt with one another. We are afraid to be called out and we are afraid to call out. But now more than ever, we need to call out. We need to scream, we need to shout. 
When I spoke to the board of education about plastic output I spoke with genuine concern. I spoke because I was scared. I spoke because I saw something happening that was wrong. And I speak now because I continue to see a practice that is detrimental to ecological stability and the welfare of our human ecosystem.
This practice is the distribution of plastic utensils. I believe it is time that we at the very least consider the thought of a world in which New Rochelle Public Schools do not supply students with plastic utensils. A world where we use metal utensils not just at home, but at school too. 
This is not an ambitious idea, it is not a new idea, it is simply the way things used to be. It may seem outlandish to some, but that is simply because we have become accustomed to a world of single use and a world of disposability. 
With this, I am asking that you consider a motion for a plastic utensil free Trinity Elementary School. I believe that we have to start somewhere. No matter how small the change is, it is still change. And every step further into the direction of progress gives my generation a little more hope for our future. One school sets the precedent for another, 2 schools set the precedent for a district. A district sets the precedent for a county. And a county sets the precedent for a state. It is a domino effect that must begin somewhere, and it has already begun in a small town in Minnesota. I am hoping that you will be open to consider change. 
Styrofoam vanished because someone was brave enough to call for it to be removed. I am hoping the same can happen with plastic. 
In the end, I am simply a kid. A junior at New Rochelle High School. But I will not rest, I will not be silent until I see change. 
Sincerely,
Anthony Baker 
On behalf of my humanity 🌲