Earth Day 2018…Who is with me? Transforming a Science Teacher to Become Green.

We Future Cycle is very proud to have inspired Mrs McCue to not only become green but also to share with all of us her story.

“Mrs. McCue, are you going to stop buying bottled water?” asked one of my students gathered around me at the door, waiting for the bell to ring. Forty eyes were on me. We had just heard a We Future Cycle guest speaker teach us about water treatment and the perils of too much plastic in our world. I looked over at my desk and spied one small water bottle I had gotten that day at a school event, and two half-filled water bottles I had brought from home. “Yes – I should, shouldn’t I?”   I thought to myself, “I have no excuse. Our tap water is fine! I have several reusable beverage containers taking up space in my kitchen cabinet. Why don’t I fill those daily, like I bring my lunch to school every day? If I am going to teach these students to be responsible caretakers of the earth, I should begin by modeling responsible earth-friendly behavior!

Of course I should! Aside from hearing this message loud and clear from Anna Giordano, I had been prompted as well by a few recent news stories. The visual of the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean haunted me, as did the horrific photo of the sea turtle with a plastic straw being extracted from its nose. The focus on this year’s Earth Day 2018 is: End Plastic Pollution. It’s time for me to practice what I preach.

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Several days after this “no-more-bottled-water-epiphany”, at the start of spring break, I found myself on a beach out in Long Island. It was a sunny, windy, 45 degree day, so there was not another person on this long stretch of beach. Two seagulls eyed me as I walked by, snapping their photo. I was noticing the beach erosion from several recent nor’easters and began to think about some other results of these storms. An entire tree lay on the sand. “What else may have washed in during these storms?” I thought.  As I walked along, I admired the rocks and shells, my reverie interrupted by an occasional plastic straw. I noticed a pink plastic wrist coil keychain. Then I saw remnants of a purple balloon. It looked like a piece of seaweed – this could easily be mistaken for seaweed by a hungry creature! I thought of the sea turtle as I placed the balloon remnant alongside some seaweed and snapped a photo. “I can’t just leave it there now”, I thought. If I am going to show my class this picture to illustrate the dangers of plastic in a sea creature’s diet, they will certainly ask if I removed that plastic from the beach!  So I grabbed a stick and picked up the purple balloon remnant and carried it off the beach to the nearest trash receptacle. The two gulls watched, fluffing their feathers in the wind. That got me thinking…….

Back at the house, I started to research – what can I do as Earth Day approaches to make a difference in the environment? I found an app on the Ocean Conservancy website called Clean Swell which allows you to keep track of trash collected during a clean-up. This is perfect! After spending a good ten minutes coming up with a group name (McQs for the Deep Blue), I downloaded the app onto my phone and recruited my daughter to return with me to the beach. We retrieved some of the items I had passed by earlier – the pink coil keychain, the deteriorated pocket knife, the orange disposable razor, five straws and ten bottlecaps.  All of these items were collected from a half-mile stretch of seemingly pristine beach in a period of 45 minutes. Imagine the  amount of plastic that might be lurking beneath the sand at a much more traveled beach? Imagine the impact a larger group of volunteers could have?

As Earth Day 2018 approaches, I WILL use less plastic by not purchasing water bottles.  I would also like to organize or join a beach clean-up. This clean-up may be “a drop in the ocean”, but if more of us take this idea and run, it will be a much cleaner ocean when we’re done. (no rhyme intended).  Who’s with me?

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We Future Cycle Is Growing, Servicing Soon More Than 40 Schools

With great pride We Future Cycle is sharing how it is growing. 10 team members are now supporting schools throughout southern Westchester. (3 could unfortunately not join us for this picture)

And what a journey this has been. From the humble beginnings of a single lunchroom to now soon over 40 schools, covering New Rochelle, White Plains, Rye, Blind Brook and soon also Mount Vernon schools. We have also worked in Eastchester, Ossining, Pelham, Tuckahoe and Mamaroneck.

In numbers, that is nearly 33,000 students that are sorting their waste every day. 33,000 students that have learned that there is no away on this earth. 33,000 students who now know about composting and recycling.

It also means that 33,000 Styrofoam trays have been eliminated from the waste stream every single day. Every one of these districts was using foam trays before We Future Cycle advocated for the clean switch to compostable materials. Styrofoam trays contain Styrene, now a classified human carcinogen, are proven to leach chemicals into the food that touches them. We are proud to have been instrumental in eliminating Styrofoam from the menu of 33,000 students.

33,000 students’ food waste is not going any longer to the incinerator to be burnt into our air, instead, it is being composted, creating nutrient rich soil, often sold as potting soil at hardware stores throughout New York State.

And these 33,000 students have families and communities they have changed by bringing the knowledge home and creating change.

We are excited to be saving the world one district at the time and creating a generation of students that care.

Come and join us if you feel strongly about teaching children to become environmentally literate.

 

Pre-Portioning in School Cafeterias….. The Cost Of For-Profit Convenience To Tax Payers

Public schools are facing huge challenges when it comes to feeding their students. Budget constrains and the logistical nightmare of getting  hundreds of students served in very short lunch periods make schools move toward For-Profit Food Service Companies to handle the cafeterias. Public schools have the option to participate in the Federal Lunch Program, which comes with nutritional and portion requirements but also with a nice reimbursement check in addition to what students pay for the meal.

Tax dollars are reimbursing the  Food Service Company for each meal, partially or entirely,  currently at $3.25 per lunch, and $1.75 per breakfast. Any purchase price paid by the student, also goes to the food service provider. So, food service company bid on the school food contracts with an eye on who has a student population that will have the least free or reduced lunches and might even spend money on snacks. Food service companies are actually paying the school district for the privilege of feeding their students. Capitalism injected into public education.

The National School Lunch Program championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama created a set of nutritional guidelines to ensure that food service companies are actually providing quality food for the tax dollars they receive. Minimum amounts per food group were established to make sure, students were not given only starchy (cheap) components. Guidelines on minimum protein and fruit portions as part of the menu assure that chicken nuggets actually contain meat and that fruit is not always the canned variety.  All in an effort to feed children as balanced as possible, with wholesome ingredients.

Feeding hundreds of children in a short time is very challenging and complying with all Federal Lunch Program Nutritional Guidelines is only adding to that challenge. And all of that, while trying to make a buck.

Thus Food service providers are turning more and more toward pre-packaging of components to allow for a fast grab and go, while controlling portion sizes closely. Minimum requirements and not an ounce more.

We Future Cycle deals with the management of the fall out of this pre-packaging craze. The cost of packaging alone, without the food cost is staggering and it does not even take the garbage disposal cost into consideration. That cost gets entirely dumped onto the school district.

We Future Cycle studied the flow of food service, the time spent to pre-cup and is helping schools to cut down on pre-packaging with only very slight adjustments to their system. It has cut down the labor and material costs tremendously, and made it much easier to sort the materials in the lunchroom.

Keep in mind, every penny spent on packaging is a penny less spent on quality food for our children.

This picture shows a completely pre-packaged lunch, two slices of plastic wrapped bread one 4 oz cup with lid containing 3 leaves of lettuce, 3 single serve pouches of dressing and ketchup, and a molded 3 compartment hot tray, with plastic covering that contained 4 oz of meat, and 2 oz of cooked vegetable. This was served on a Styrofoam tray with a pre-packaged fork, napkin, straw combo and an 8 oz carton of milk. The packaging waste is staggering.

There are better ways to spend tax dollars and feed out children.

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White Plains Ridgeway Students Are Learning to Look Deeper For The Environment

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Students answering scavenger hunt questions at Ridgeway Elemantary School

It is unusually quiet in White Plains Ridgeway Elementary School in-door recess because rows of students are sitting in front of large posters trying to figure out the clues.

The “Did you know” lunchroom scavenger hunt program, by We Future Cycle, is challenging students to look beyond recycling. Students learn shocking statistics about the every day things they use. They learn that the US alone uses 500 million straws per day, for an average use time of less than 60 seconds. And they learn that it is easy to make a difference. Just ask yourself ” Do I really need that straw”.

Filling out blanks, unscrambling the clues brought students to ponder facts like that the world uses AND DISCARDS over a trillion plastic bags a year. Each of these plastic bags still being in existence, most ending up floating in our water ways now.

Students learned about the staggering mountains of single use plastic bottles in the US and the depressing recycling rate of only 23%.

We Future Cycle’s goal is to nurture the other two Rs , REDUCE and  REUSE in participating schools. Society cannot recycle itself to zero waste and only through education we can change our throw-away society.

Because there is no away in the world

 

Teaching Students Young To Care. Family Services of Westchester introduces WeFutureCycle Recycling Program into Pre-k programs

One of the added benefits of teaching young children about recycling is, that they LOVE the hands-on sorting portion. And at least one of the cute youngsters will want to sit on my lap during the presentation. It is just delicious having bright eyed 3 year olds in front (and on top) of you and asking them to identify a material and then place it in the correct recycling bin.

Family Services of Westchester is serving White Plains youngest students in their seven head start centers throughout White Plains. As the We Future Cycle recycling program is now running in all White Plains public schools, reducing garbage by a whopping 97% through diversion into recycling, excess liquid and composting streams, it made sense to incorporate the little ones already. Get ’em young and they will learn for life.

With wonderful support by each center director and the program director, even 3 year olds will learn that their actions matter and make a difference.

 

White Plains Post Rd Kindergarten Students Eagerly Helping With Recycling

Goosebump alert! I had the pleasure to visit the White Plains Post Rd Elementary School today during K and 1 lunch and it gave me such goosebumps to see loads of K students eager to be part of the solution. Each of these (tiny) troopers ate quickly and then asked to help at the recycling station.

White Plains City School District has implemented the We Future Cycle Recycling Program now in all of their elementary and middle schools, reducing garbage by 97 % in each building through source separation and diversion into recycling and composting streams.

These K students entered school in September and learned how to sort their breakfast and lunch waste in record time. And…. it is something so satisfying to watch a 6 year old casually walking up to the station and carefully sorting his/her materials in the right bin. As I was watching, students even took the time to explain the system to me and then immediately asked if they could help.

Shoulder to shoulder these troopers made sure that all their classmates were doing it right. Seriously ….way to go

 

Osborn Elementary in Rye, NY Achieves a 97% Waste Diversion Rate!

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Osborn PTO Co-President Susan Drouin and her son stand proudly by the recycling & composting station!
Today Osborn Elementary School became the 3rd (and final) elementary school in Rye, NY, to implement the We Future Cycle lunchroom recycling and composting program.  Amazingly, each of the 3 Rye elementary schools achieved a 97% waste diversion rate. 
The waste audit revealed the following results. There were 154 lbs total waste (for about 600 students), including:
Liquid: 33lbs (21%)
Commingled (hard plastic, cartons & juice boxes): 29 lbs (19%)
Compost (food & paper): 62 lbs (40%)
Trays (also compostable): 25 lbs (16%)
Trash: 5 lbs (3%)
Only 3% of the lunchroom waste was trash!
Head custodian Tim Connick built 2 recycling stations with countertops; he drilled holes into the countertops, revealing the bins for recycling and waste materials underneath. The counters help keep the system well-organized.  The lunchroom aides were extremely engaged and helped the students adjust to the new system.
As usual, the kids were thrilled with their new lunchtime activity and with creating a healthy environment! Many children ran over to the recycling station with their eyes wide and mouths open in astonishment that launch day was finally here. You would have thought it was Christmas morning and they’d just seen the presents that Santa left under the tree! Their enthusiasm will surely continue as Osborn students are a very thoughtful group. During our classroom presentations to train the K-5 children, they asked “Where does aluminum foil come from?” “How many bags of trash has our school already generated this year?,” “Why don’t we reuse trays?,” and “How do cars get recycled?”  We hope they continue to be inquisitive and apply everything they learn to their lives!
Thank you to the Osborn administration, teachers, aides, PTO and students for giving the We Future Cycle team such a warm welcome and for your commitment to ensuring a healthy environment in the Rye community!