Every morning, I walk the neighborhood for exercise but also as a way to spend time with my son, away from the constant demands of digital devices. We walk, we chat and we pick up garbage on the way. Our eyes are peeled for cigarette butts, plastic lids, chip bags, coffee cups, plastic bottles and all the other stuff people carelessly discard without a single thought as to where the stuff will end up once it leaves their hand. As we are creatures of habit, we are most often walking the same round, and thus are picking up litter from the same streets. And every day I am shocked to have at least one full bag of trash from very residential suburban neighborhood streets. Civilization comes with lots of problems, but the solution to everything is for ALL OF US to make a difference, and it’s easy. It is no skin of our back to combine bending our backs and carrying a bag with our morning exercise. And often enough we get a thumbs up from a passing driver, or a “thank you” from another walker. We know, that our actions can teach others that it is possible to make a difference everyday.
That was the subject of a recent series of presentation to Elmsford HS students. AHHS has implemented the WeFutureCycle recycling program in the fall and is maintaining a 94% diversion rate through recycling and composting. Students are now pretty much on auto pilot when they come up to the recycling station to quickly sort their left over into recycling, composting or trash. Every day, Elmsford HS produces one bulging bag of recyclables from the lunchroom and another one from the kitchen that go to the Westchester Material Recovery Facility in Yonkers .
Learning about the amount of trees felled every day for our daily paper, paper towels or milk cartons literally made them groan. Realizing where aluminum comes from they casually use to wrap their sandwich shocked them, and understanding that plastic in the environment can be a death sentence to all kinds of animals brought some of them actually to tears.
Civilization with its packaging takes a great toll on this planet. Elmsford students are learning every day that being the solution is as easy as changing a few hand movements and becoming conscious about oneself in the greater scheme of things.
Recently, We Future Cycle introduced its recycling program to the Carl Dixson Elementary School in Elmsford. This school houses Elmsford’s youngest, pre-K through 1st grade and it is now bustling with green activities.
Students as young as 4 years old learned that their daily small actions can make a huge difference. They learned about what happens to the things they “throw away” They learned that there is no “away” on this Earth. The content of the garbage can goes somewhere and they were quite shocked to see what a landfill looks like and what an incinerator does to all of our air. All students agreed that we all have to take care of our Earth.
First graders wrote about what they learned and drew a picture about it. Here are some of the heartfelt examples
We Future Cycle’s mission is to create a generation of kids that care and we are so proud to show off the tangible results that hands-on environmental education can bring to schools.
Take a look at this lovely “Reusable water bottle parking area” outside the gym at the Church St school in White Plains.
Seriously…way to go!!
White Plains school district has been working with WeFutureCycle for 6 years now and its entire school population is well acquainted with the Recycling station and system in their lunchrooms., The pandemic and the resulting changes in food service put the system on hold for a year.
Now, WeFutureCycle is back to bring environmental literacy to students.
White Plains MAS students just learned in class by class presentation about different packaging and why these materials can be sorted into recycling.
Students as young as K and 1 are very literal in their thinking. When shown a juicebox, they will see JUICE and not the juiceBOX.
Teaching these students to look past the content brings about a whole new level of thinking and even though they were all wearing masks, it was so obvious in their eyes how they were making this very important transition.
After the classroom programs we observed the students putting their new knowledge to test in the lunchroom. It was quite amazing to see the difference in sincerity about their sorting task, now that their heart and head is connected to the hands.
Lunch at White Plains Eastview school is a well oil machine. Students come in at three lunch periods, get their lunch with hot and cold lunch options and some grab and go components and sit down at their designated table with clear plexiglass individual dividers between each other. Mask rules are strictly enforced and students are only allowed to take the mask off, when seated at their table.
After lunch, students put on their mask and go to the recycling station to sort their lunch waste away. They are calm, relaxed and well versed in what they need to do.
We Future Cycle is proud to be the White Plains School districts recycling coordinator now for 6 years and while the pandemic with its changed packaging requirements made lunch service more challenging, it is a pleasure to see with what normalcy the students sort their waste.
Eastview’s custodial staff is very helpful and keep the stations neat and organized.
It takes a village to raise a child and Eastview is showing that a school community can raise environmental literate students and they make it look easy!
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.
Edwards Williams Elementary School in Mount Vernon has just implemented the We Future Cycle recycling program and reduced its garbage to just one bag, down from the regular pile. All the rest was recyclable, compostable, excess liquids or untouched food.
Students learned in class by class presentations how their personal actions can make such a difference. The simple act of putting a packaging material in the correct bin means that this material can have a second life.
Students learned that instead of throwing all their lunch waste in the garbage, if they just sorted it into recyclable packaging, compostables and non-recyclables, over 90% can be re-utilized. Shocked faces greeted images of landfills and incinerators. Nobody really ever thought what happened to garbage once they threw it “away”.
Learning that even their left over milk and their left over sandwich can be recycled was quite eye opening to these students. They were hesitant when offered to smell compost as they still had food waste as a negative thought in their head. But after the first, courageous kid took the proverbial nasal plunge and took a sniff and declared with a big smile : It smells just like dirt and nature!, they all smelled it and agreed that it makes so much more sense to compost our food waste into soil, then treating it as trash and either landfilling or burning it.
Williams students are all fired up to help save the world and from day one on, the building took ownership of the program.
We Future Cycle’s mission is to create a generation of students to care and to reduce garbage as much as possible. This is a 3 pronged approach. We work with the schools directly to set up logistics to allow for separation of materials so these can actually be recycled and composted.
We also present to the entire school community in order to create behavioral change across all players in the building. Changing on how we discard what we deem not to need anymore is a learning curve as it involves a change of heart. Only if people know what becomes of the material that is carelessly discarded, they start to become responsible for their actions, as small as where they place their empty coffee cup.
And lastly, we are working with food service to identify areas where we can replace unneccessary packaging with bulk.
We are very proud that our vocal opposition to EPS trays (Styrofoam) has now resulted in all of Westchester’s school districts to replace them with a compostable alternative.
We are also fighting against pre-wrapped Spork packages that contain a straw, napkin and spork, all wrapped in plastic. Our studies revealed that 70% of all students do not use the spork nor the napkin, thus discarding the materials unused.
We are also working to replace all single serve condiment pouches with bulk squeeze bottles. Training students to only take what they intend to consume is part and parcel for this effort.
We are working to make the school lunch world a greener place, one lunchroom at a time.
The bigger fight is to get washable flatware back into the lunchrooms.
Help us bring environmental education programs to schools.
We Future Cycle is providing challenging environmental programs to schools, all as stand alone curriculum add-on programs to teach students about how their every day actions can make a big difference.
- Environmental Footprint of Aluminum: (grade 5-9) Do you know where aluminum comes from? It comes from Bauxite, a type of stone that contains various alumina minerals. Mining for bauxite involves cutting down trees in rain forests, destroying animal habitats and causing water and soil erosion. Students learn in detail how aluminum is created, and also the importance of recycling aluminum because it can be used over and over again.
- Science of Compost: (grade 4-7) After learning to source-separate their food and paper waste in the lunchroom, students know that the material is trucked away to be turned into compost, but how does the transformation happen? In classroom presentations including slides and video, students will learn the science of mixing “greens” with “browns” with the appropriate amount of moisture to create nutrient rich compost. They will also learn about how putting organic matter in landfills contributes to climate change.
- Vermiculture: (grade K – 3) There are number of ways that organic waste (food and paper) are broken down to nourish our soil, and one is vermiculture, or worm composting. In classroom-by-classroom presentation from a WFC expert, students will learn how worms are used to decompose organic waste and turn it into a nutrient-rich material that can provide nutrients for sustainable plant growth. Students will learn that every living being has an important job to do and after getting up and close to a bunch of worms, most kids end up naming their worms. (Jeffrey seems to be the name of choice, and sometimes “wormy”)
- Planting a Trash Garden: (grade K-3) Students are learning about what is organic and inorganic and they learn how materials interact with the environment over time. It opens their eyes to the litter problem surrounding them as well as make them compassionate about being a change agent. A scientific experiment makes this very tangible for the students.
- Water Water Water: (grade 5-10) Students will learn about water, how it gets into the homes and what happens to it when it leaves, they learn the working of a Waste Water Treatment Plants, touch upon Waste Water to Drinking Water, Desalination and what the hype about bottled water is about. A water filtration activity for the students caps the lesson off.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch:(grade 5 – 12) Students are learning about the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the role of ocean currents, and how this affects wild life and the food chain. They also learn about prevention and mitigation in process. This program is very much centered around how people rise up to meet these challenges, it is meant to show students that nobody is too small to make a big difference. Never underestimate the power of one.
- Milk Cartons: (grade 3-6) This program explores packaging over time and how single serve packaging came about. Milk cartons are prevalent in any lunchroom in America, but few students know how a milk carton is made. Students will learn how paperboard and waterproof plastic are blended to make a liquid-proof container, and thus why recycling cartons is a unique process. Note that Westchester County only started recycling milk cartons in May 2016 and this program will aid to get the information back into the homes.
- E-waste/Electronic Equipment: (grade 6-11) What is E-waste and what does it take to make electronic devices that end up as e-waste. How are the devices disposed off and what are the human, environmental and social ramifications of E-Waste. This is also covering jobs in the recycling industry and how students can become involved in innovative technologies.
- 9. “Did you know” poster lunchroom education scavenger hunt (grade 3-6): this is an indoor recess activity to make students aware of the environmental foot print of materials they use every day, often without a second thought like straws, plastic bags etc. Searching for clues and filling in blanks is fun to do and they are learning without even noticing it.
- 10. The social and environmental impact of textiles: (grade 8-12) this program explores where clothing comes from, what it takes to make them, the social and environmental costs attached to clothing and why textile recycling is so important.
- 11. Galapagos, how islands deal with garbage: (grade 8 – 12) Exploring how other nations deal with waste, highlighting Galapagos.
- What is recycling? (grade 2-6) What happens to the material we put into the recycling bin, where does it go and what becomes of it. Learning how scientific concepts of gravity, magnetism, anti current, friction and resistance are used to sort materials for recycling. This program also focuses on reduce and reuse education
- What is Fracking (grades 8-12) an introduction into energy exploration and the environmental consequences to the oil and gas industry. What does it take to keep society going? Glimpsing into oil and gas exploration, as well as introducing renewable energy sources and how each student can make a difference by being energy literate.
- Coal and its environmental footprint (grade 8-12) This presentation examines how coal is mined and processed to be burned to make electricity, it describes the human , social and environmental costs. Renewable energy sources are introduced and contrasted.