Children understand sustainability as a natural part of the preservation of our planet. All it takes is a little nudge from their teachers, and they enthusiastically embrace sustainability practices in their schools. This year, EarthWays Sustainability Network (ESN) was launched to develop a network of educators who could teach their students about waste, waste reduction, and recycling.
ESN teachers train with EarthWays Center staff for one year - learning about solid waste issues, discovering ways to reduce waste in their school, and implementing new projects to reduce waste and increase recycling rates in the community. Each ESN teacher advises a school Green Team comprised of students who seek solutions to school waste issues. At the beginning of the school year, the teams collected trash for one day and conducted a waste audit with the help of EarthWays staff and volunteers. After digging into school waste, sorting the many bags of trash into recycling, composting and trash, one student commented, “We should make this a club.” And another clearly understood why EarthWays staff enjoys the waste audits when he said, “I actually had fun getting dirty because we actually did something to help.”
Through the school Green Teams, the teachers work with students to help implement actions to reduce waste, increase reuse and recycling, and integrate topics into classroom curriculum. They receive support from the EarthWays staff throughout the entire process. “It is our belief that schools, including teachers and students, have the greatest capacity to make a difference in our community,” said Kat Golden, Sustainability Education Manager. Green Teams started Waste Ambassador programs in their cafeterias, getting students to help others sort out their waste at the end of their lunch period.
Plastic utensils were out. Washable silverware was in. Throw-away trays at Halls Ferry school? No way. Now students are using washable trays instead of Styrofoam. Several schools in the ESN have even had to adjust the frequency of recycling pick-ups – which means a decrease in landfill trash and a major increase in recycling collected! In May, each Green Team will conduct another waste audit to see the true impact their work has had on their school’s waste.
One student summed it up perfectly: “You can’t just throw all your trash in one bin, because if it’s recyclable you're wasting possibilities.” Thanks to the ESN program, there are fewer wasted possibilities. All it took was a little nudge.
Funding for the ESN pilot year came from a grant from the St. Louis County Department of Public Health utilizing County landfill surcharge funds. Click here to learn more about our other programs in Schools & Universities.