EarthWays Sustainability Network - 2019-20 Update and Coming Opportunities.

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The EarthWays Sustainability Network is an annual cohort of teachers engaging in professional development on waste reduction in schools and implementing student action projects. The 2019-20 cohort of teachers was the fourth cohort in this program and represented schools from all over the St. Louis area. This year, teachers from the following schools participated:

  • Brown Elementary in Hazelwood – Brandi McKenna
  • Captain Elementary in Clayton – Cathy Chamberlin
  • Long Elementary in Lindbergh – Liz Rich and Michael Jobst
  • Meramec Elementary in St. Louis – Laura Watson

All of the schools conducted a waste audit in the fall where students sorted school waste into different categories and then weighed it to help identify where problem areas might be. Based on that data, each school developed a different project.

Brown Elementary had a group of students very interested in waste in their cafeteria since they had looked at school wide recycling the previous year. In their waste audit, they learned that not very much of the waste from the cafeteria was recyclable. This led them to investigate and advocate to the administration for a reduction of single use items in the cafeteria.

At Captain Elementary, 1st graders learned that one of the largest categories of waste in their trash was paper, a recyclable item. They created signage to improve communication on what can and cannot be recycled. To prevent even more items from going into the trash, this class created a Reuse It station where students could collect items normally thrown away and instead use them for projects.


Long Elementary really focused on improving recycling practices across the whole school. A multi-grade level team worked to sort the waste and learned that a lot of items in the trash could be recycled. Their action steps had 5 parts: create better labels for recycling containers, create signs throughout the school to show which items can and cannot be recycled, create lesson plans to teach students about what can and cannot be recycled, create video announcements with “Green” tips of the week, and create a team to collect recycling weekly and check for items that should not be in the bins. Students also prepared presentations for the school board and administrators on other waste reduction measures that could be used across the district, such as incorporating reusable materials into the cafeteria.


The 5th graders at Meramec Elementary actually started a school recycling program. After the waste audit, these students worked with St. Louis City Recycles to get recycling bins for every classroom in their school. Next, they created and led presentations for each grade level on what should be recycled and what should go in the trash. Students also weighed and tracked how much was being recycled from each room. This group also had the opportunity to visit the Champ Landfill and see where trash goes once it is thrown away.


While school closures due to COVID-19 disrupted each of the year activities, each school has a plan for how to continue this work going forward so that waste reduction practices remain a part of the campus. Learn more about this cohort of teachers and their stories on the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Discover+Share blog.

Even with the school year looking very different, the EarthWays Center is offering the EarthWays Sustainability Network program to interested teachers in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, and Jefferson County. The goal of the program this year is to provide professional development on sustainability and waste reduction to teachers in addition to giving them the tools to conduct student action projects in whatever environment their students are learning.

Teachers interested in joining this year’s 2020-2021 cohort can learn more at the EarthWays Sustainability Network webpage or contact the Education Coordinator, Maggie McCoy, at mmccoy@mobot.org to ask questions and apply.

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