In 2012, students in the SCH Academy lower school for girls identified a problem: food waste and recyclables were too often getting tossed into the large grey trash bins in the cafeteria instead of being thoughtfully separated into the compost bucket and blue recycling bins. Already at that time the school maintained an on-site compost pile that was coordinated by the 2nd grade students. Each day 2nd grade girls carried buckets of kitchen and cafeteria vegetable and fruit scraps out to a growing compost pile. It was growing so large in fact that the girls struggled to turn it and to maintain the balance of “greens and browns” necessary for happy compost.
With support from the science teachers and enthusiastic engagement from the school’s faculty sustainability committee, the 2nd and 3rd grade students began a “design thinking” process, conducting interviews with fellow students, with cafeteria and facilities staff and teachers to identify the specific problems with cafeteria waste and to brainstorm solutions.
The students identified several solutions and, inspired by their energy, the school launched a pilot to test their plan that successfully lead to the launch of a zero waste cafeteria initiative on the school’s two campuses. Students collaborated with an LEED architect to design new zero waste sorting stations for the cafeterias, the facilities department hired a commercial compost hauler and the sustainability committee and student eco clubs worked to inspire the school community to focus on reducing and properly sorting waste at the new waste sorting stations.
In the SCH cafeterias, the waste sorting stations provide visible evidence of the school’s commitment to sustainability, but don’t signify that the work is complete. In fact, the challenging work of changing behavior and reducing waste remains an on-going effort. Training students, faculty and staff to use the waste sorting stations properly requires regular reinforcement and re-training. And, reducing waste requires everyone to examine purchasing decisions that impact what food is served and how it is served or displayed each day in the cafeteria as well as at school events and meetings.