This past June, the EarthWays Sustainability Network (ESN) capped off its successful second year. The Network is a teacher mentorship program where teachers from around the region learn techniques for minimizing waste at school, and get support and guidance from EarthWays staff as they assemble a “Green Team” of students, develop sustainability curriculum, and engage in school-wide projects to measurably decrease waste. We’d like to highlight two of the ESN schools: EAGLE Prep Tower Grove East in St. Louis and Sunrise R-IX Elementary in DeSoto, MO. At both schools, work began with a waste audit, where students measured how much of each category of waste was thrown out.
At EAGLE Prep Tower Grove East, Kindergarteners in Brittany McPherson and Toby Loewenstein’s class found that their two largest waste categories were food and plastic film. They also found that 50 times as much food was thrown out as any other category! To reduce the top two categories, Ms. Loewenstein and her students decided to raise money to start commercial composting at the school, as well as joining the TREX program to collect and recycle plastic films. Their first step was to prepare a video explaining how to properly use TREX recycling, which they then shared with the rest of the school. They then completed a class unit learning about trash, recycling, and compost, and converted 60 milk cartons into planters for kale to help with fundraising efforts for the commercial compost.
Video still image from film created by EAGLE Prep Green Team members explaining how to use TREX recycling.
Eventually, thanks to the sale of the planters and other donations, EAGLE Prep began commercial composting three, and eventually four days, a week starting in January. At lunch, students made sure to put recyclable materials in the recycling bin, food waste in the compost, and lunch staff also made sure that students were taking just as much food as they would eat. In May, a second waste audit revealed that food waste had decreased in the cafeteria by 400%. In other words, from January to May, the efforts of one kindergarten class helped divert 1,650 pounds of school cafeteria waste from the landfill!
In the 2016-2017 school year, Sunrise Elementary competed in the Green Schools Quest, where they sought to reduce cafeteria waste. Their audits revealed that milk cartons actually contributed the most to cafeteria waste, and so teacher Tracy Brosch and a team of student volunteers began rinsing out cartons and repurposing them to make “Bug Hotel” insect habitats for use in their school garden. They also composted fruit and vegetable scraps in on-site compost bins. Over the course of that school year, they managed to divert 1,900 pounds of waste!
This year, Ms. Brosch and her newly minted Green Team (pictured, top of page) participated in the EarthWays Sustainability Network, and picked up from last year’s Green Schools Quest project by tackling classroom waste. Milk cartons are still recycled and composting is still going on in the cafeteria, and the 30-member team is getting the rest of their classmates in on the act of reducing waste in the classroom. Each Green Team member is in charge of a room in the school, which means every single trash can and recycling bin is monitored daily. Green Team members then separated out plastic film ensuring there is no contamination in the single-stream recycling containers. Sunrise’s Green Team continued to track recycling contamination and collect TREX (plastic film recycling) over the course of the semester. Qualitative surveys showed that there was a sizeable decrease in the amount of waste getting thrown away in classrooms, leading to recognition of many individual classes.
For schools interested in joining the EarthWays Sustainability Network please email Kat Golden or call (314) 577-0207. To learn more about other opportunities the EarthWays Center has for schools and Educators, click here!