A student-led team tackles waste at Park Forest Elementary School in State College, PA. PHOTO CREDITS: Donnan Stoicovy
When it comes to making change, the environment is one area that we can all access and lend a helping hand. This week, we draw inspiration from some amazing youth in Pennsylvania who won the 2016 President’s Environmental Youth Award. This award recognizes outstanding environmental projects by K-12 youth, promoting awareness of our country's natural resources. Since 1971, the President of the United States has teamed up with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recognize young people for protecting our nation's air, water, land, and ecology.
The students of Park Forest Elementary in Pennsylvania set out with the ambitious goal to become a zero-waste school. They started out by studying waste in the lunchroom over the course of three days. They learned that lunchtime waste bound for the landfill actually included 603 pounds of recyclables and 389 pounds of compostable organic matter. There was a huge opportunity here to divert waste from the landfill through recycling and composting.
Their next step was a large educational campaign to raise awareness, which they named, “Are You Sure?" Students put up posters and banners to remind people how to recycle, while also making physical changes to encourage proper recycling and reduce waste. They replaced the trash bins with containers half their size, labeling them as “Landfill.” They also repositioned recycling bins to make them more prominent, and students set up information tables to educate their peers about proper waste disposal.
By collaborating with teachers, parents, custodial staff, and the school principal, they were able to set up a composting system that included the use of worm bins (vermicompost) inside classrooms. Worm bins are especially useful for urban schools or those with limited outdoor space. They can also serve a double-purpose for science lessons and studying real-life biology!
In the end, the Zero-Waste Team was able to divert nearly 12,000 pounds of waste after the program’s first year, and the following year, the school had reduced their landfill pick-ups from five times a week to just twice a week.
How can you as a peacemaker reduce waste at your school? What can you do to raise awareness for the environment and decrease our negative impact?