Tag Archives: pollution

Only so little left! Celebrating a 98% diversion into recycling

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADiverting 98% of school lunchroom waste into recycling is now normal at the Westchester Schools that are running the We Future Cycle recycling program. This is what came out of a school with over 1000 students every day. 32 bags of loosely filled, dripping with left over milk.

However once the students learn about the impact sorting can make, this school is down 98% of it original amount. Only that small black bag, weighing 4 lbs is what is actually trash.

The three bags of milk cartons are now going hand in hand with the plastics to the Westchester Material Recovery facility for recycling, and the green large toter contains all the food waste and all the trays to be composted.

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White Plains Church St Elementary School Students Compost Healthy Snack Waste

3ba6684d-abfe-412a-923e-0d5c14d498b8Students from K through 2nd Grade are carefully walking the blue classroom compost pail to the school courtyard that houses a lovely learning garden, a greenhouse with the first projects budding and a nice compost tumbler.

Church St Elementary School adopted the We Future Cycle recycling program in October of 2015 and has decreased its lunchroom waste by a whopping 98%, sorting out all recyclable and compostable materials. In the classrooms the students are diligently sorting out all paper and commingled into the correct bins, leaving very little for the trash can.

Now, under the leadership of Principal Castillo and Assistant Principal Jackson, the school is solving another problem. Mid morning snack!

Students were presented with common snack packaging materials and asked if they thought it was healthy for them. They all knew that chips, cookies, caramelized popcorn and traditionally single served packaged snacks were not healthy for them. One child explained to me: ” Chips are not food, they are just snack”

We Future Cycle presenters went into all kindergarten through 2nd grade classes and helped students make a very important connection. We eat to stay healthy, the foods we eat should be healthy to keep our body healthy, and foods that come directly from the Earth are healthy and naturally without packaging material. Church St students realized that their choice of snack can help their body and their Earth to stay healthy.

Students that bring their snack in reusable containers and are waste free receive a paper leaf, write their name on it, and then paste it to the Waste Free Tree outside the cafeteria. Check out this leaf sprouting tree! DSCN2821

Healthy food waste will make Church St’s garden grow. Two green children from each class are carefully placing all apple cores and banana peels into the composter and over time get to see close up the wonders of decomposition. DSCN2817

 

School Waste Audits Show Change Is Very Possible

As Sustainability Coordinator and Waste Management Consultant for schools, I am always counting and weighing garbage bags, mostly under the watchful eyes of head custodians that are highly skeptical of being asked to institute a “recycling program”. Sometimes with the help of the students, sometimes without.

The general notion in schools is that when there is a blue bin somewhere, then there is a recycling program. Upon being asked how much commingled they are actually pulling out of the building to be recycled, I am often met with a lengthy explanation on why the material is so contaminated that they have to discard it as trash.

The prevalence is still that ” It is all garbage to me” and ” I don’t have time to recycle”.

That is where We Future Cycle, a non profit organization specialized on large scale sustainability programs comes in.

The mere fact that I come in and count and weigh the garbage puts a value on garbage, which was not there before. Custodial staff usually does not think of the cost associated with garbage, but being told just how much their school generates creates already an awareness.

Schools being supported by We Future Cycle are usually audited before any recycling program component is implemented, and then after each component comes on line, and then periodically to make sure things are still on tracks.

We have seen dramatic reductions from 277 lbs from lunch alone down to 3.5 lbs and 187 lbs from night clean down to 21 lbs.

Showing reduction results from other schools with similar number of students is first met with high degree of skepticism, but once they see me standing on a scale, holding a bulging dripping back of garbage to weigh it, they know, that School Waste Audits show that change is very possible.

White Plains Schools Also Recycles Soft Plastics….because they can!

White Plains School District food service staff have been fabulous team players from the get-go in adopting the We Future Cycle lunchroom recycling program. We Future Cycle launched the recycling program at Church St, Ridgeway and Post Rd Elementary schools and the kitchen staff has been incredibly supportive and engaging.

All participating schools reduced garbage by a whopping 95-98% and the kitchens went down to a office-size trash bin with just a few used gloves and some dirty soft plastics, that is it!

However,  what really makes these food service workers stand out is their willingness to go beyond ….just because they can!

The kitchen is the only place in the building where clean soft plastic is collected and then eventually brought to the grocery store to be part of plastic bag recycling. Plastic bags, bread bags, and other  soft plastics are used to make composite wood, which is a mixture of sawdust and HDPE. As plastic bags are only recycled through the local grocery store and cannot go with the municipal commingled pick up, most kitchens are not willing to take on the task of sorting them out and then dropping them off at the grocery store on their own time.

White Plains kitchens said they can and they will. And so every week, sometimes even twice per week, one of these wonderful ladies drops of a bulging bag of clean, dry soft plastics for recycling. Way to go, what an example of going beyond…..

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.

 

We Future Cycle in National Kids Science Magazine

news-f3a8e624689425102e9e5de00789be1aWe Future Cycle is so proud to be featured in the National Kids Science Magazine called DoGoNews. How cool is that!

And we are particularly proud to have heard from a bunch of people that their children chose that article as their current events project.

http://www.dogonews.com/2016/1/15/innovative-ideas-to-curb-food-waste-range-from-sharing-to-dumpster-dining

 

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.