Tag Archives: schoollunchrecycling

Communities around the U.S. are creating children who care – about food waste and their role in reducing it

When a recent New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/01/headway/composting-food-leftovers.html) described efforts in Ohio to reduce food waste, staff at WeFutureCycle Inc (501c3) smiled in recognition. The work the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) is doing sounds important and very familiar! Yes, Americans throw away 80 billion pounds of food every year. Yes, it does create untenable amounts of methane when sent to landfills, or horrible smoke pollution when burned in an incinerator, AND takes up more space in US landfills than anything else!  Yes, it can be put to much better use! And significantly, children, such as the ones highlighted in the article, can make enormous differences to the amount of food wasted in their communities.

Students in the White Plains City School District work every day to keep food waste out of the incinerator (Westchester County trash is burned in Peekskill). School staff, including lunch monitors and custodians, as well as We Future Cycle representatives, train & assist each child to sort their lunch waste & leftovers into different bins for each material, including food & paper for compost. Schools that sort are able to divert between 90 and 98% of their waste AWAY from the incinerator! Much of this waste is food, napkins & compostable trays. These items are sent to Ulster County for composting, and in 90 days, instead of pizza crusts, uneaten apple slices, and dirty napkins, we have rich, healthy soil that can be used to grow new things. Additionally, burning less at the incinerator means less pollution from the smoke. While in 2018 the EPA estimates that about 4.1% of wasted food was composted (2.6 million tons), in White Plains schools, almost 100% is composted. 

Just like children at Horizon Elementary in Ohio, White Plains children are learning about their significant role in protecting our environment and reducing waste by recycling & composting, every school day, from Kindergarten through senior year. They’re developing habits that will serve them and their Earth throughout their lives. They’re even sharing what they know when they get home – one mom told us her daughter won’t let her buy (non-recyclable) juice pouches anymore, and they now opt for recyclable juice boxes instead. Another parent shared that her daughter is encouraging them to compost instead of putting food scraps in the trash.

By starting children young the hope is that these habits become ingrained. Community by community, school district by school district, groups like SWACO and We Future Cycle are creating a generation of children who are educated about recycling, who understand the impact one person can make, and most importantly, who CARE!

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Waste Free….. starts with me!

WeFutureCycle’s mission is to create a generation of kids that care.

Our program teaches students to think past the garbage pail. They learn that their small actions of sorting their waste makes a huge difference and every single day, participating schools maintain a diversion rate of 95%.

Students are now sorting more or less on auto-pilot and are transferring that behavior across other aspects of their lives. We see more reusable water bottles, more reusable containers and more and more even reusable spoons and straws.

Students have learned that making garbage is actually a decision and they are now choosing to NOT make garbage.

Keeping the “green” in schools

WeFutureCycles mission is to create a generation of kids that care about their environment and that make changes in their personal behaviors every day for the better of all of us.

COVID requirement brought about big changes in schools. Some were very bad for the environment because lunches became mainly single serve packaged again.

But some changes were also wonderful and it is clear that these new trends remain.

COVID meant that water fountain at schools were closed and students could only refill a bottle at a station rather than drink directly from one. This lead to the fact that nearly all students are now carrying a reusable water bottle.

And those bottles are neatly parked outside the gym every day. Great optics!

Sorting lunchroom waste from day one again

White Plains School District has been running the WeFutureCycle program for 8 years now, most of the student have never seen anything else but sorting their waste carefully into recycling, composting and trash.

While COVID protocols made it difficult in the past, now all schools are bouncing back with ease. The first day of school is always a blur as teachers get their kids ready for the school day routine but it was a pleasure to see that the recycling portion in the lunchroom was easy to re-establish. WeFutureCyle consultants retrained, and did hands-on support to make sure that students are familiar again with how to sort their waste.

After nearly 1000 students sorted their lunchroom waste, only around 10 lbs of actually non-recyclable trash was generated, everything else was either compostable, recyclable, excess liquid or untouched food that we routed back into the hands of hungry children in the afternoon.

Where do Westchester’s recyclables actually go?

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.

White Plains MAS students learning about packaging materials

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.

White Plains Eastview students are back to recycling with ease

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!

Elmsford joins the WeFutureCycle program

4 lbs of garbage, that is all that was generated in the Alexander Hamilton High School in Elmsford. One small bag! Down from over 100 lbs in 9 bags. All the remaining material is either compostable or recyclable.

Students watched a WeFutureCycle presentation to learn about the detrimental effects of garbage on our environment and ultimately on life on this planet. They learned that small changes in their daily life can make a huge difference.

Did you know that if one just separates the recyclables from the non recyclables from the compostables, suddenly a 95% of reduction can be had. And it is not just the benefit of reduction of garbage, but it is also the capturing of the resources. The food waste will be composted into nutrient rich soil and the recyclable packaging material will generate resources for the county.

We interviewed some of the students after learning about the program and sorting their lunch for the first time . All of them said that they were surprised to see how little effort it takes to make a difference, and how just a tiny bit of personal commitment can change the world.

Grants From The Carton Council Make Milk Carton Recycling Possible at Westchester Schools

There are two concern that make school leaders hesitant to start lunchroom recycling & composting.

The first concern is the fear of change. Administrators and custodians are worried that a source separate program, where students are separating their milk cartons, plastics, and food waste, will create more work in the lunchroom, and that sorting lunchroom leftovers may be too challenging for their students. However, as more schools have adopted the We Future Cycle program, and enhanced recycling and composting has taken off in Westchester, these concerns have subsided. School leaders realize that composting is an important part of a healthy community, and they are now fully on board at the start.

The second concern is money. While implementing and maintaining a recycling and composting program at a school is minuscule compared to many school expenses, every penny counts. We try to use existing bins at the school because reusing is both economical and sustainable. However often some bins need to be purchased, along with signage to specficy the separation of milk and juice cartons, food waste, etc. Annual recycling & compost pick up costs several thousand dollars per year. And We Future Cycle must charge a nominal fee to maintains school-required insurance and ensure we can bring in enough people to help educate students and monitor recycling bins at an ever-growing number of schools as we expand our reach. Volunteers are wonderful, but most districts do not have a sufficient number of stay-at-home parents who can dedicate enough time to helping us launch and sustain our programs.

What is a school to do? Enter Carton Council, willing to contribute funds for bins and signage for milk & juice carton recycling, which makes the We Future program a reality at many schools!

Formed in 2009, the Carton Council is an organization committed to growing carton recycling in the U.S. By promoting both recycling technology and local collection programs, as well as growing awareness that cartons are recyclable, they work to limit the number of cartons that become waste.  Since Westchester County’s Material Recycling Facility (MRF) began recycling milk cartons and Tetra Pak containers in May 2016, the Carton Council’s mission to increase carton recycling and We Future Cycle’s mission to increase lunchroom recycling and composting were perfectly aligned.

Carton Council grants have been provided to schools in Rye Neck and Mount Vernon. New schools that join the We Future Cycle family will have the option to obtain a Carton Council grant as well. We are seeing that the grants are having a huge impact on schools’ abilities to work with us, and we are enormously grateful to the Carton Council for making our program a reality at so many Westchester schools!

Mt Vernon Graham first graders study worms and their importance in this world

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.