How Dedicated Students Reduced Cafeteria Trash by a Third

food waste garbage can photo

Photo credit: dyslexik/Creative Commons
This guest post was written by Pauline Roberts, a teacher at Birmingham Covington School in Bloomfield Township, Michigan.

When my students calculated that our school filled 18 cans of trash each day during lunch, they knew they had identified their Siemen's We Can Change the World Challenge. What they didn't realize was how much of a challenge it would be for each of them personally to complete the project.

Find Out More About the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge!Data collection and analysis really drove my students' approach to solving the problem. To educate the school community about our trash habits, they made a poster showing the number of trash cans we fill in one year stacked on top of each other. The combined height of the cans was five times higher than the Empire State Building. My class was convinced that this information alone would secure action from their peers and encourage the student body to get on board with their Trash Free Friday Campaign. It didn't! Week after week my students eagerly counted the number of full trash cans, hoping to see a decline as a direct result of their posters and announcements. The count remained the same.

Deeper analysis of the problem was required so into the trash cans they delved. Many students went beyond their comfort zone as they emptied three trash cans onto our classroom floor to organize into categories. After discovering that Styrofoam lunch trays accounted for much of the contents, they contacted the head of food services who replaced the Styrofoam with reusable baskets. There was a noticeable decline in the trash can count at last, and my students were re-energized.

Three recycle stations were established in the cafeteria and my students "manned the cans" in order to educate students on the spot about what could be recycled rather than trashed. They were scoffed at, laughed at, mocked and teased but every Friday they persevered and persisted, encouraged by the impact their work was having on the can count each week. Hungry for more success, they wrote and performed a play about Ebenezer Scourge, the boy who refused to recycle. While singing, acting and dancing came easy to some students, for most, it was a challenge for them to face their own insecurities, all in the effort to reduce the trash can count.

Each week they eagerly counted the cans and each week they dreamed up another creative solution. T-shirts, posters, flyers, announcements and brochures were just some of the strategies they employed to reduce the trash can count from eighteen to six cans. It was exciting for me as mentor to watch my students employ key 21st Century skills to succeed with this project. Team work, creative thinking, productivity and digital literacy abounded! Even more importantly for me was what they learned about integrity, perseverance, courage and responsibility.

Like John Mayer, I'm still waiting, waiting for the world to change. After watching my students grow and learn throughout the Siemens Challenge, I am hopeful that when their generation rules the population, the waiting will be over.

Follow the Siemen's Challenge on Facebook
Read more about zero waste:
Make Today A Zero Waste Day
Turn America Recycles Day into Zero Waste Day
Meme of the Month: Zero Waste

How Dedicated Students Reduced Cafeteria Trash by a Third
When my students calculated that our school filled 18 cans of trash each day during

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