What had 400,000 feet but left no footprints on the earth? Answer: Ontario’s 200,000 elementary school students who participated in a province-wide challenge to pack waste-free lunches. In celebration of October’s Waste Reduction Week (WRW) in Canada, recycling councils across our country promoted special 3Rs events.
One of the Recycling Council of Ontario’s (RCO) annual events has been the Waste-Free Lunch Challenge (WFLC). During Waste Reduction Week October 17 to 23, 2011, students, teachers and parents were challenged to reduce their lunch waste. Children who ate lunch at school were asked to bring their lunches and snacks packed in reusable containers, with soup or drinks in thermoses, to compost unwanted organic food scraps, and to recycle any single-use containers. Sounds easy! And it is actually, once you are in the habit.
The average student generates thirty kilograms of lunch waste per school year. During the WFLC, participating students committed to bringing a waste-free lunch every day for one week. Each day, lunchroom supervisors and students conducted a waste audit by placing all single-use containers, wrappers, fruit peelings and unfinished food on a table to be divided into categories of organics, recycling and waste. Reuse was promoted over recycling, noting that even yogurt can be spooned from a large container into one both smaller and reusable. Many schools were successful in measuring individual students’ lunch waste at under 10 grams—the weight of two nickels!
Catherine Leighton, RCO program manager, explained, “The WFLC provides an excellent opportunity to empower, inspire and educate youth to think about smarter consumption and waste minimization. The program allows students to understand how their individual actions can make a difference. We asked teachers to conduct lunch material waste audits every day of Waste Reduction Week, so they could monitor their waste reduction results for an entire week. They are often surprised at the results, which motivate them to continue all year long. Many who participated last year created ‘Waste-Free Wednesday’ to maintain the momentum.”
Twenty of the most successful schools were chosen to receive $1000 each in grant prize money for environmental school projects. The RCO declared an additional ten schools to be the recipients of an educational experience such as a field trip to a recycling depot or “green” business, or to host an environmental speaker. The WFLC is a province-wide program offered by the RCO in partnership with Metro Ontario and Tetra Pak Canada, to heighten awareness of waste minimization while challenging the schools to do their part.
“We’ve quadrupled our participation rate this year with more than 200,000 students involved. Clearly they understand the importance of waste reduction and are more than willing to take up our challenge,” said Jo-Anne St. Godard, Executive Director of the RCO. “We anticipate that the challenge will divert hundreds of tonnes of waste from Ontario landfills.”
Kevin MacIsaac, Principal of St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic School in Hamilton stated, “This challenge is an excellent program to have at the beginning of the year to motivate students. Environmental activities such as these help us reach our goals with certification with the Ontario Eco Schools program. Winning the WFLC last year has inspired us to pursue all our eco initiatives to the best of our ability.” For further information visit www.wastefreelunch.com.
As my grandchildren praised their “green teacher,” I seized the opportunity to interview Sandy Chalmers of Algonquin Elementary School in Barrie who has been instilling conservation principles in her students for almost thirty years. Presently she has sixty children on her school’s recycling “Green Team.” When I entered her classroom at the end of the school day, the blinds were already drawn to conserve heat. Recycling containers were in view, but I was hard-pressed to find the small garbage can. Before schools implemented a full recycling program, Mrs. Chalmers created reusable, colourful cloth lunch bags for students. She instructed that what left home, returned home in one form or another for proper disposal. Due to the vast number of school projects during Waste Reduction Week, she regretted not being able to participate in this year’s challenge, but added, “I just loved the waste audit concept and will be trying it soon.”
Other Ways to Reduce Waste
A worm bin in a classroom offers not only a good way to compost but also provides an excellent biology study of red wigglers. These hardy classroom residents will eat their weight in bedding and food every day. When the bedding has turned to castings (worm poo) it can be sprinkled on the school’s plants and help nourish its gardens or bagged as a fundraiser. Cathy Nesbitt, who offers workshops and worm bins, has excellent tips and information on her website. Visit www.cathyscomposters.com.
As Waste Reduction Week falls prior to Halloween, it is a good opportunity for all folks to be mindful of a “Green Halloween.” This includes composting Jack O’Lantern shells and hosting zero waste costume parties.
Connie Cyr at Our Lady of Lourdes French Immersion School in Elliot Lake took “green” one step further when her students in art class decorated pumpkins. Mme Cyr introduced her 3Rs craft box of clean but otherwise rather useless items to be used. The box included bits of wool, ribbon, packaging, netting, wine corks, coil binding from discarded notebooks, trimmings from construction, and parts from broken toys, etc. “When I dumped it all on the desk, it was like I had emptied a pot of gold—the students were that thrilled!” she stated. “What’s more, I was amazed at the great imaginations they all had. Voilà Fantastique!”
Waste Reduction Week, like Earth Week, should be practised every week. Children are excited about being taught environmental stewardship; after all, resource management rests on their shoulders. To be a truly waste-free, green, or eco school, everyone has to be engaged. The principal, teachers, office staff and custodians must develop sound water/energy conservation habits, practise the 3Rs diligently, compost and, most importantly, lead by example. Conduct your own school waste audit. ReThink for the Zero Waste Generation and be ready for this year’s challenge. The Future is Rs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Larraine Roulston writes the Pee Wee at Castle Compost series of illustrated children’s books that combine composting facts with literature. Each book contains resources for teachers. Visit www.castlecompost.com.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Mar/Apr 2012 issue.