Tag Archives: schoollunchrecycling

Grants From The Carton Council Make Composting 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 composting will create more work in the lunchroom, and sorting lunchroom leftovers may be too challenging for their students. However, as more schools have adopted the We Future Cycle program, and as residential 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 and compost bags. Annual 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 compost 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 to make 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 composting 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.

Rye Neck’s Daniel Warren Elementary Students Prove Kindergarteners Can Compost!

One of the questions we frequently get asked is “How will Kindergarteners be able to compost in the lunchroom? Will they really be able to sort their lunch leftovers?”

Our resounding answer is alway “YES!,” and Daniel Warren Elementary School students proved that during their launch of the We Future Cycle program in October 2019.

Following the launch at F.E. Bellows in Rye Neck, which is a grade 3-5 school, We Future Cycle took on teaching the K-2 students at Daniel Warren about composting. Principal Tara Goldberg was very engaged in the launch. She is present during the entire 1 hr lunch period (1/2 hour for grade 2, 1/2hr for Kindergarten, and 1st grade is split up between the 2 lunch periods), which enabled her to optimize the flow of students as they came up to the 2 recycling & composting stations to sort their leftovers. We tried 3 set-ups before we arrived at a system which got the students through the lines most quickly! That is the right way to implement any innovative program like composting; launch with the best plan you have, but be flexible and optimize as time goes on.

The custodial team, led by Tom Tempesta, was enthusiastic about giving input to make the process seamless for them. The aides all jumped in to help; they immediately saw the benefit of recycling and composting and were eager to help the students sort their leftovers properly. Teachers take turns helping kids in the lunchroom – a practice which was common decades ago but is now uncommon in Westchester schools – which is a great way for educators to observe their students in a social environment and also help extend environmental education into their classrooms.

And, the parents, wow! We had parent volunteers from the start, and their dedication was impressive. We Future Cycle monitors the lunchroom stations for 2 weeks during the launch period, but then we leave the program in the hands of a champion at the school. The parents created their own monitoring schedule so they could continue to support the program when We Future Cycle moves on to launch other schools. And while we rely on administrators, aides, and custodians to keep the program operating on a daily basis, We Future Cycle checks in at each school twice per month to make sure everything is humming along smoothly.

The results at Daniel Warren were almost identical to the results at F.E. Bellow. 92% of the lunchroom waste was diverted into composting and recycling:

Liquid: 6lbs (10% of total weight)
Commingled (hard plastics and aluminum for recycling): 10lbs (16%)
Compost (food and paper): 34lbs (56%)
Trays (also will be composted): 6lbs (10%)
Trash: 5lbs (8%)
Total weight: 61lbs

Our only challenge is the many non-recyclable and ever-changing food service items. The Daniel Warren lunchroom has a cooler of water (which is preferable to single-use water bottles), but at one point there were 3 different cups next to the water cooler – one was a plastic recyclable cup, one was a paper compostable cup, and a third was a paper/plastic blend cup which would go in the trash! It is unnecessarily complicated when lunchrooms have an excessive number of single use items that must be sorted at the composting and recycling station, and we try to work with food service to make the packaging more simple.

Thank you to the Rye Neck PTSA for bringing this program to the Rye Neck elementary schools and for their financial and volunteer commitment to this initiative. We look forward to bringing the program to the MS/HS in the near future!

White Plains students examine organic and inorganic materials in the environment

“How does bread interact with water?”  that was the question Mamaroneck Avenue School second graders had to answer in a slightly messy, hands-on science experiment. Followed up by “How does plastic interact with water?”.

Learning about organic and inorganic materials and how these interact in the environment with water and wind was the basis for We Future Cycle’s presentation to second graders.

Students learned about the problems related to littering. They learned that plastic does not break down in the environment and lasts forever and effects wild life as it enters the food chain.

Watching a video about how the street litter makes it through our rain water sewer systems into the ocean and just how big the plastic problem is was eye opening to them. Footage of divers swimming through a soup of floating garbage made them collectively groan. And seeing animals dying from ingesting plastic made this problem personal to them.

Each class started a lively discussion on how every student can be the solution to the problem. Each student had brilliant ideas and wrote about them in their daily workbook.

We Future Cycle’s motto is “Creating a generation of kids that care” and these MAS students are an inspiration to all.

Mt Vernon Hamilton first graders examine the role of worms in the environment

Nothing is more fun than going into a classroom with a worm bin and teaching first graders about how every living being has a really important job to do.

Picture1The initial reactions of the little ones is a long drawn out “uuuhhhhh”, when I show them pictures of my worms and tell them how much I love them. They usually look at me with disbelief. And then they learn about all the fabulous things that only worms can do for us, and without that, our world would truly be in dire straits.

Students learned how worms breathe and upon learning that it is through their skin, they all rubbed their arm in disbelief. They learned about the function of muscles and it was very cute to watch them flex their biceps repeatedly, imitating contraction.

They learned about how much worms can eat, how they are the cleaning crew of our world. As they are translucent, one can actually observe the castings ( worm speak for “bathroom business number 2”) pass through their body and students learned how they are connected to healthy soils and plant life. I was blown away that all students knew that plants gave us oxygen (yes they used that word!) and food.

They learned how worms reproduced and all were very busy looking for cocoons and to identify what age a worm might have based on its size. BTW, just in case the intrepid reader wants to know. Worms have both male and female organs, but two worms still need to mate, and then both can have about 5 cocoons per week. Each cocoon contains  2-3 itsy bitsy live worms, that will stay for about 45 days in the cocoon until its time to hatch. It takes 6-10 weeks to grow to adulthood and they have a lifespan of 3-5 years (quite astonishingly long)

The lesson was capped with a wet paper towel in front of the kids, with a handful of worms on it to get up close and personal with them. Students learned that every living being has an important job to do and deserve our respect.

Mt Vernon students start bringing reusable water bottles to school, ditching single serve packaging

We Future Cycle just implemented its recycling program in Graham Elementary School. Students learned about what happens to garbage and where it goes. They saw pictures of landfills and garbage filled lakes and coastal waters. They also learned about how personal choices in what we buy and what we consume make a difference, every single day.

I usually share with students my personal dislike for single serve juice pouches. The sandwiched material of plastic, aluminum foil and plastic is non-recyclable and such a terrible waste of infinitely valuable aluminum foil.

Most people do not think about the environmental cost of the materials they touch every day.

What does it take to make a water bottle, what does it take to make aluminum foil?

We are usually too busy to just get our days organized and it is so convenient to grab something single serve wrapped. And our language of casually saying “I am just going to throw this away”, as if there was a magic poof that made garbage disappear.

Mount Vernon students are learning that there is no away, when it comes to garbage. It goes either to a landfill or to the incinerator, neither is a good place for our environment, and both have lasting damaging effect to all communities around them.

On day two, after learning about how their actions count and make a difference, I was approached by a group of 4th graders proudly displaying their new reusable water bottles, and saying that -from now- they will make a difference every day !

It was very heart warming. Changing the heart of children is what it takes to make generational change.20191206_122417

Mt Vernon Grimes school has only 8 lbs left for garbage, a 96% diversion rate

Letter to Grimes School Parents:
We are so excited to share with you that Grimes Elementary School has taken a giant leap toward reducing our environmental footprint and is going green. The students are on the forefront of this exciting new project.
Last week, the children learned in class by class presentations that over 90% of their lunch waste is actually either compostable or recyclable, if it was just sorted out. They also learned about the problems around garbage and that there is no “away” on this earth, when we talk about “throwing something away”. They learned that Westchester’s garbage goes to the incinerator in Peekskill and gets burnt and creates air pollution.
Your children might share with you as their parents that most packaging made out of glass, all hard and rigid plastics, cartons and juice boxes and metals like soda can, aluminum foil and soup/coffee cans are fully recyclable if they are just placed into the correct bin. And to their biggest surprise, students learned that even their left over milk and left over food can be recycled. Only soft plastic such as chip bags, wrappers, plastic baggies, juice pouches are non recyclable and have to be discarded into the trash.
We Future Cycle, a 501 c3 not for profit company, was hired recently by the district to bring this program to all of Mt Vernon schools. The organisation has successfully implemented environmental education and recycling programs in many Westchester school districts . And Grimes is the 5th Mount Vernon school to implement the program.
Your children are now learning a new breakfast and lunch routine, and they took to it like fish to water. Instead of throwing all of their lunchwaste into one big garbage pail, thus generating over 15 bags of trash every single lunch, they are now walking up to one recycling station and are carefully emptying their containers and sorting them into recycling, compost or non-recyclable.
was implemented
daily garbage bags outside the school before the We Future Cycle program
On their first day, Grimes has reduced its garbage from 189 lbs down to a mere 8 lbs, a 96% reduction. Please join me in celebrating this wonderful achievement for our children and their future in a greener world.
This is AP Lucille Martir, easily holding up the single quarter bag of non recyclable garbage left, after the students sorted their waste for the first time.
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AP Lucille Martir easily holding the remaining 8 lbs of trash, a 96% reduction