New Rochelle Albert Leonard middle school students are digging soil, in a literal kind of way.
6th graders explored in We Future Cycle classroom sessions the connections between throwing food waste in the garbage and climate change. Learning about methane and leachate got their attention. Just thinking past the garbage can is eye opening for these students.
While New Rochelle’s entire student population is now sorting their lunch waste between Commingled Recycling, Food Waste and Trash, thus reducing trash by a whopping 97%, they have not quite learned what actually happens to the food waste.
In classroom presentations, student were walked through the chemical process of decomposition, they chuckled a bit when asked if the banana looks the same when it comes back out and they quickly got the concept of nutrients, water and energy being the basis for life.
Making connections between how the apple tree takes nutrients out of the ground to grow the apple, which in turn nourishes our body when we eat it, and how the left over still contains many nutrients that could benefit the soil if put back, but creates havoc if treated as garbage and dumped in a landfill, was a completely new line of thought to all students.
Students had the chance to dig through soil samples, seeing and touching the difference organic matter made in soil samples. They were tasked to make determination in terms of water retention capabilities, nutrient content and how plants might like to grow in that particular soil. Social Studies questions were introduced for students to think about how a the quality of soil might affect the wealth of a country.
What started out with students looking somewhat puzzled at three soil samples on their desk, ended in some fabulous essays about why composting is so important to the survival of our world. Great job Albert Leonard students.
New Rochelle High School is the largest HS in Westchester County New York, it is more like a college campus with sprawling hallways and mind-boggling amounts of students spilling out of classrooms when the bell rings. 3 cafeterias are on campus feeding these youngsters and until recently were generating a whopping 100 large bags of garbage e.v.e.r.y…s.i.n.g.l.e…l.u.n.c.h ! Filling up 3 dumpsters to the brim just from lunch, and another two large dumpsters from night clean.
New Rochelle School District has embraced the We Future Cycle Recycling Program and steps were put into place over the summer to include the High School. Principal Richardson admitted that he was beyond skeptical about how this program could possibly work in a huge building like the High School. He however vowed his full support.
In order for a recycling program to work, one has to address all players in the building. We Future Cycle did presentations to students, custodial staff, and security personal to outline just how we are all affected by garbage and how simple changes of behavior can make a HUGE difference. Putting the new knowledge to action, students started to sort their waste in the different cafeterias and learned that by simply sorting into excess liquid, commingled recycling and food waste for compost, 90% of the waste is captured and sent to reusable streams.
Only 10% of the High School waste was trash. A 90% reduction of lunch waste is huge, looking at the sheer number of players involved. Instead of filling up trash containers, the high school is now filling up commingled recycling containers and food waste bins to be composted. Way to go!
Principal Richardson is exceedingly proud of his student body and is working with his Science Chair to integrate Environmental and Sustainability Education as Curriculum Add On.
When we launch the We Future Cycle program at schools, we work with administrators, custodians, aides, and food service to get the mechanics of the program implemented and humming. However, ultimately the goal is to give program ownership to the students. They are the ones who must learn to separate their lunch leftovers into the appropriate bins, and they are the ones who bring the recycling message home to their families and extended communities.
Fortunately, this is not hard to do! Students absolutely love sorting their lunch leftovers…it’s fun! As well, they thoroughly understand that their actions have a direct benefit on the environment, and they know that what they do makes a difference.
This said, even enthusiastic students need to know that their principals, school lunch aides, and parents support the program to foster sustained compliance, and students also need a refresher from time to time about how the lunchroom sorting works. Fortunately at the BMP Ridge Street School in the Blind Brook District, a 5th grader took it upon himself to spearhead that refresher!
Jackson Welde, 5th grade student, noticed that his peers were becoming a bit sloppy in the lunchroom, so he asked his principal if he could create a presentation to show at the monthly school-wide student assembly. (Click on the image to view a segment of the presentation.) The principal enthusiastically said “Yes!” and within a couple months, this presentation happened. The K-5 students were attentive listeners, and they learned compelling facts about plastic and paper waste as well as about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The presentation reminded students that properly sorting their leftovers in the lunchroom has ramifications to the health of their own environment, as well as to the environment around the world.
We Future Cycle encourages students to lead the environmental initiatives in their schools by making presentations such as these, as well as through Green Writing Contests, environmental education, and many other projects. Giving students ownership of environmental programs promotes the values and responsibility necessary to instill a lifetime of environmental stewardship.
“We had no trash at all today” proudly says Sebastian , a pre K student, and then hugs my leg. And then he gets to paste a Waste Free Leaf on the fabulous tree outside the Principal’s office.
In June I sat surrounded by 3 and 4 year olds. One girl even sitting on my lap. In front of me is a tray with all their waste from snack. Asking little ones like that where the trash goes, they will give you answers like “in the garbage can”, “in the garbage truck”, but when you ask deeper where they thought the garbage truck goes, they all stopped to think. I watched them figure out that -of course- the truck has to go somewhere and then guided them through the process of understanding that Westchester’s trash gets burned into our air.
Together we resolved that it is just as easy to put the sandwich in a washable container than in a single serve plastic baggie. And they got it, amazingly quickly.
Introducing the We Future Cycle Waste Free Snack program that combines education of children and ultimately also their parents with a fun hands-on activity has brought great change to schools. At the German International School White Plains, the entire elementary school is participating. We Future Cycle went to each classroom. We talked about how to package foods in a more responsible way, how to be waste free, how to be healthy to our body and to our Earth and we introduced on-site composting.
To make decomposition touchable for the students, two composters are placed at a convenient spot and each class learned about it. Each time the students are waste free and have only compostable waste, they are rewarded with a leaf to paste on the beautiful Waste-Free-Tree and two students get to feed the composter. It is a very coveted job and as they dump the fresh banana peel in, they get to check out what happened to yesterdays apple core, bringing natures circle of life close to home.
Needless to say, teachers are reporting that a record numbers of apples and bananas are coming in since the beginning of the program.
But what is the most satisfying for me, is that the students are suddenly aware of how their actions make a difference, they are aware that waste is a problem, and they join me celebrating being waste free.
According to a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, students with 20 minutes or fewer to eat at lunchtime rarely finish their meal and make unhealthier food choices.
While most elementary school children have about 30 minute lunch periods in the U.S., some spend much of their lunch period standing in line waiting to get their lunch. We often see students come to the source separation station to recycle and compost leftovers with only a few bites of their lunch consumed. When we ask why they didn’t eat more sometimes they say they didn’t like the food; however just as frequently they will say “I didn’t have time to eat everything.”
This response confuses school administrators, as it would seem that 30 minutes is sufficient for a child to each lunch. However, we have observed that students spend a lot of their lunch period talking, as it is often the first opportunity during the school day that they can relax and talk with their friends. Socializing often takes priority to eating!
The research – and We Future Cycle – offer recommendations about how to reduce lunchroom waste and to encourage healthier eating. Designing lunchrooms and lunch schedules to reduce wait times on lunch lines, and to offer as extensive lunch periods as possible, are constructive ideas. While recycling and composting is great, the best way to reduce waste is to not create it!