Tag Archives: cafeteria recycling

White Plains Post Rd Elementary School proudly reduces garbage by 98%

It was a rainy day when We Future Cycle did the “before recycling” waste audit at the White Plains Elementary School. Mountains of trash bags from lunch had been piled up just outside the building to be weighed and counted before being brought to the large container by Custodian Rob  Dell’Orletta. Every single bag, bulging, dripping milk and being wet from the rain was weighed and results were added up. Post Rd Elementary school looked at 27 bags, weighing a total of 277 lbs. It was very messy and unpleasant. Mr Dell’Orletta was not surprised by the numbers, and confirmed that it is the normal amount, plus about another 6 from breakfast, usually, and some from after school.

He smiled at me, with charming disbelief, when I shared with him that after source separation we will look at one bag weighing less then 5 lbs.

Following classroom by classroom presentations to the students, and prior day presentations to all staff and adult players in the building, the big day finally arrived. Gone were the rows of large 55 gallon grey trashcans from the aisle between the table, gone where the bulging black plastic bags, hanging over the handle of the bins, to have quick replacements at hand. Mr Dell’Orletta looked somewhat worriedly when he saw me removing all his prepared replacement bags. We Future Cycle set up two recycling stations against the far side of the lunchroom, removed all large barrels, with its black bags and replaced them with smaller colorful bins, clear bags or no bags, and large signage on what each bin is for. I did not put any replacement bags on handles, explaining that I did not think we will need to empty any of them until the very end of lunch. Another disbelieving, but very hopeful smile from Mr Dell’Orletta.

Lunch time came and went, and as with all first days to teach 650 students to sort, it was a blur.

754bf9b0-bdff-40fc-8c3e-7e04f1af9aafThe results, however, were not blurry at all. Instead of 277 lbs of trash, Post Rd is proudly looking upon 3.5 lbs ! A 98% reduction

All the rest was either excess liquid, recycling, composting or untouched food to be donated to the local soup kitchen.

Ms Ossorio, principal, was giddy with pride and joy, and rightfully so, her students just proved that making a difference is very possible. And Post Rd students did it in a timely fashion too, on the first day! That is truly something to write home about.

 

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Teaching students to care about the environment

New Rochelle Trinity Elementary School Assistant Principal Inas Morsi Hogans has been for years a stout supporter of the We Future Cycle recycling program and knows that it takes regular refreshers for students to understand why they are sorting their lunch waste in the cafeteria.

Only if our head knows the why, the hands will do the what automatically.

Ms Morsi Hogans invited We Future Cycle to do student presentations in each classroom to refresh the older grades on how the program works, and of course to teach the younger grades. We Future Cycle staff members went from class room to classroom teaching the students that an empty bottle or peanut butter  jar is not trash, but rather material to make something new out of. The students were fascinated to learn where “away” was, when one talks about throwing something away.

In Westchester, “away” is the incinerator up the Hudson in Peekskill. A large Waste-to-Energy facility that burns Westchester’s 2500 daily tons of garbage into our air.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA regular lunch trash bag is a 55 gal 1mm thick trash bag. A school with 600 students generates between 13 to 20 bags of trash every lunch, each weighing around 12 -15 lbs, which means 333,333 bags of trash are burnt every day. That is an unfathomable number. I cannot even wrap my head around what kind of volume that represents. And that is just Westchester.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd New Rochelle Trinity students are drastically reducing their lunch waste by sorting. Out of 266 lbs of waste, only 4.5 lbs were non recyclable.

That is a whopping 98.3% reduction, simply by sorting out all the recycling, composting, excess liquid and the untouched foods. Through education and daily hands on participation, Trinity students care and they are making a huge difference. Can you just imagine if EVERY school did that? We Future Cycle is working towards just that.

 

The Cost Of School Lunch Packaging to Society

We all know a regular hectic morning, between getting ourselves ready for work, getting sluggish children out of bed, showering them is optional, a cursory brush of the hair, feeding them, throwing together their lunch and snack with a quick grab into the pantry to put pre-packaged convenience food into their lunchbox, and ,still out of breath, we run them to the bus stop. Phew.

We don’t have time to think what price tag might be attached to that pre-packaged food at the other end. We are just happy to have made it again, another day of hectic working parents.

We -at We Future Cycle- working in the classrooms and in the lunchroom teaching the children about the waste and where “away” is, see it every day. We see the plastic baggies, the pre packaged meat, cracker and sauce packages, the juice boxes, the juice pouches, the single serve apple sauce pouches. We see the huge amounts of packaging materials that come in, all in the name of convenience.

As most of us don’t think past the curb where we bring our garbage can twice per week, there is no understanding what happens to the stuff once it leaves our house. It just conveniently “goes away”. Students in schools that are running the We Future Cycle Recycling program are learning that there is no “away”. Older students also learn about the cost of “away”.

Schools are spending a large portion of their budget on waste management. Every dollar spent on Waste Management is a dollar NOT spent in the classroom.

Parental convenience comes with a price tag to society.

There is a much better way, that will save money on both ends and only requires a little bit of planning. Packaging a lunch from fresh ingredients in a reusable box, and sending watered down juice in a reusable bottle will solve two big problems in schools. It will reduce the waste management costs and it will feed the children healthier to allow for better learning. I am sure you will agree with me……our children are worth the little effort.

New Rochelle Barnard Second Grade Student astonishes with wistful knowledge “Garbage goes to the Incinerator”

Sitting on the carpet surrounded by a group of New Rochelle Barnard students and doing a presentation about recycling is one of my favorite activities. I just love helping students make a very important mental transition. When I show students  a bunch of empty packaging material, one will invariably sneer at it and call it trash.

Walking them through the fact that empty packaging is not trash, but rather material for new things is the most rewarding, because children get it so fast. They understand what it means to play with things over and over again, if you just put it in the right bin.

At some point, I ask the students where they think “away” is, when they talk about throwing something away. I usually get a variety of answers ranging from “the garbage truck” all the way to “the dump”.

Today, however, at Barnard Elementary School in New Rochelle, I was blown away as a 2nd grader very casually answered : “Garbage goes to the incinerator”.

And that is exactly right.

Westchester burns 2500 tons of garbage every single day at its Wheelabrator Facility located in Peekskill NY. At a price tag of close to $80 a ton to just drop the stuff onto the tipping floor, Westchester is looking at a whopping $200,000 per day cost just to burn our garbage into our air. (long pause to let this sink in)
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In a school, 95-98 % of the waste can be recycled, if it is just sorted out. The same applies to Westchester’s garbage of 48% organic, 33 % paper and 16% Commingled recycling.

We have fabulous technology like an I-phone, but we cannot sort our garbage so that 95% can get recycled instead of getting burnt into our air?

Well, New Rochelle Barnard Students have just joined the growing group of schools that say “Yes, we can make a difference, a huge difference” And that is exactly what they did.

From 84 lbs of waste, only one single pound was trash, all the rest was sorted in the right bin and fed into compost, recycling or down the drain as liquid waste.

I call that making a huge difference!

 

 

New Rochelle Columbus Students On the Big Screen

c015385b-7b1d-45de-9b62-307f4f56a45eNew Rochelle Columbus Elementary School celebrated its Red Carpet Affair on Thursday evening. Students walked on a red carpet, donned in their finest to the auditorium to see themselves on the big screen.

Columbus Students were filmed as part of a documentary about how introduction of sustainability education can change a community. A film crew came in to capture the students doing a waste audit and filming the unbelievable amounts of waste generated in a school without recycling. And the film crew followed the students on their journey to learn to sort their waste in the lunchroom, all the way to the celebration to show case that Columbus reduced its garbage from 400 lbs to just 8 lbs, a 98% reduction, through diversion into recycling and composting. Students shared what they learned and how they will continue to make a difference.

9f151755-49ee-438e-8fe6-9bde62110180Just like at the Oscar’s the “actors” were interviewed to share their thoughts. Proud students were either the interviewer or the interviewee, asking questions about what the students have learned from the on-going recycling program in their lunchroom, how their parents made differences in their households, now that the students learned about recycling. The answers were heartfelt and sincere. Clearly, Columbus students know that their actions count and each and every one can make a difference.

The lobby was filled with educational displays on how to make a waste free lunch and the PTA was offering reusable sandwich boxes, waterbottles, and shopping bags for sale.

Principal Sonia Nunez welcomed everybody warmly to the auditorium, thanked especially the green students who are unwavering in their support of the lunchroom station and explained to the parents how this documentary came about. And then lights were dimmed and the show began.

New Rochelle’s Jefferson Elementary School down to 1.2% Garbage

3 lbs of trash, all the rest goes into compost or recyclingThis is what 254 lbs of lunchroom waste look like, and — believe it or not—- only 3 lbs of it, was actually trash. Everything else is being fed into food waste composting and recycling.  72 lbs went as left over liquid down the drain, and the students sorted 15.5 lbs of untouched food out to donate to the local soup kitchen.

That is a whopping 98.8% reduction.  Seriously …. way to go.

Jefferson Elementary School under the leadership of Kim Nieves and LeAnn Bruno has always been on New Rochelle’s forefront to bring sustainability to their students.

Already in 2011, when the We Future Cycle Recycling program was in its infancy and New Rochelle was still serving its students on Styrofoam trays, Ms Nieves and Ms Bruno knew that making the students partners and teaching them to care and sort is a life long skill.

Fortunately, after a 5 year battle, Styrofoam is permanently off the menu in New Rochelle and We Future Cycle gives full credit for this to Jeff White, Assistant Superintendent of Business. Mr White, being new to the district, saw immediately the incredible social, educational and environmental value that the program offers to the children and understood that serving our young ones on a material that contains Styrene, a chemical that has recently been classified as “reasonably anticipated human carcinogen” was inappropriate, no matter how much less expensive it might be.

Jefferson adjusted its program to follow We Future Cycle’s guidelines, so all New Rochelle schools are set up exactly the same.  We Future Cycle is enjoying working with Jefferson’s enthusiastic recyclers. There is nothing as rewarding as having a kindergarten student hug your leg and say thank you for teaching her to recycle.

 

 

 

New Rochelle Columbus Kindergarten students Hard At Work For the Environment

Every day at lunch, Columbus Elementary school has about 15 enthusiastic students helping at the recycling station. My favorite group are the kindergarteners.

They cannot even look over the rim of the bin, but they are excited recyclers. When they come into the lunchroom, they first run over to me to ask if they can help. Of course they can help, but they are all sent to go and eat first. After a while, they start showing up, first carefully sorting their own tray and then proudly taking their position behind the station.

The most critical position is watching over the food waste bin to make sure no plastic or other contaminants end up in it, and the second most important job is the correct stacking of the trays.  Meet  Jose, the Master of the trays.  I just love this little boy!