Recycling is Simply Elementary
An in-depth look at the program
From the Davis Food Co-op's Natural Choices Newsletter
Visit any Davis elementary school at lunchtime and you'll find something amazing going on. As the students finish lunch, they pick up their trash, walk over to the garbage cans.and begin sorting their recyclables.
Eager to participate, first through sixth graders in Davis are learning to look for and sort #1 and #2 plastics, aluminum cans, and their aluminum hot-lunch trays into the "Mixed-Use" bins. The clean cardboard "Crunch Lunch" trays get stacked for paper recycling. Brown paper bags and unused napkins are emptied and tossed into the paper recycling bin. Waste fruits and vegetables are dumped into the nearby compost container.
The kids are in a rush, they want to get out to play, but still they linger and sort through their debris, asking the Recycling Site Coordinators "Can I put this lettuce in the compost? It has a lot of dressing." (No, only fruits and vegetables without oils and dressing go into the compost bin.) "This juice box isn't recyclable, is it?" (Correct! That goes in the trash - try using a reusable water bottle for your juice instead of a juice box next time) "Can I recycle this chip bag? It looks like aluminum." (Sorry, no, this is only a shiny reflective paper. Try using something like Tupperware instead and put chips in there. Then you won't have trash to throw away.) And so it goes, throughout the lunch hour.
With the help of the Recycling Site Coordinators, the lunch supervisors, the custodians, and principals, hundreds of students are now working hard to reduce the waste stream at their respective schools.
Over the past two years, five groups have collaborated to improve recycling programs in the eight elementary schools in Davis. Davis Waste Removal, Davis Educational Foundation; Farm to School Connection, the RCC Group, LLC, an environmental management firm, the City of Davis, and the Davis Joint Unified School District have all contributed their expertise and developed an effective recycling program with an ambitious goal to reduce the solid waste stream at the nine elementary sites by 50 percent.
This DJUSD Recycle Program Partnership began the first day of school with the theme, "Recycling is Simply Elementary (RISE). " The new RISE program closes the loop on the popular "Crunch Lunch" salad bars and integrates well into the School Garden programs at each school. When students finish their lunches, they recycle their cardboard trays and separate and weigh their fruit and vegetable waste into compost and worm bins maintained at each school. The worms slowly degrade the food waste into more compost. In time, the resulting compost makes its way back into the school gardens. The gardens, several of which were established years ago, are an active part of each school community, providing hands-on science learning for the students.
Considering each school site collects an average of 15 lbs. of fruit and vegetable waste a day, the students are provided an eye-opening education in the "how and why" of composting. In a startling statistic, after the first nine weeks of school, it was estimated the nine elementary schools diverted approximately 5400 lbs . of fruits and vegetable wastes from the solid waste stream.The gardens will soon benefit from the extra time the students take at lunch to sort their food waste.
Each school maintains a similar RISE Program, but with a unique approach. This approach depends heavily on the school's climate, size, and support system, but the heart of the DJUSD Recycle Program Partnership is each School's Recycle Team. Each school's Recycle Team consists of a custodian, a volunteer Recycle Site Coordinator, other parent volunteers, staff, and students.
Working together, the Site Coordinators, and custodians establish a working system for their school, monitoring the garbage dumpsters and recycle bins each evening to ensure accurate records. Site Coordinators attend the lunch period, provide information to parents through school newsletters, give presentations at PTA meetings, meet with the principals to ensure the program meshes with the school's vision, and educate the students through informational visits. Working with the students at lunch is a key component to the program's success. Although the students recycle on their own, they benefit from the guiding presence of the Site Coordinators and other volunteers.
Depending on volunteer involvement, (parents are highly encouraged to volunteer at lunch), Site Coordinators attend lunch at least once a week. At each school, the science teachers are another unique link to the recycling and composting aspects and they work to incorporate it into the curriculum, when appropriate.
Some schools have vermi-composting displays, in addition to "traditional" composting. As indicated above, vermi-composting uses earthworms to break down food waste. The students feed the worms depending on the amount of food and the size of the worm bin. The school lunch supervisors and custodians are another invaluable resource. Each custodian is responsible for setting up and dumping the recycling bins, as well as assisting to monitor the dumpsters.
The lunch supervisors routinely remind the students to recycle, help them check the bottoms of plastic bottles, pick up trash, and separate misplaced recyclable items. Since the lunch supervisors are familiar with the students, and have worked with them from year to year, they are an integral link in making the program work. So what are the forces behind this RISE partnership?
In California, although School Districts are not required to implement waste reduction programs, a number of political factors make innovative and cost-effective programs like this one possible. In September 2001, the Senate passed SB 373, or the School Diversion and Environmental Education Law (DEEL). The law mandates a change in the California Education Code to incorporate environmental concepts into the California State Science Framework and curriculum.
It also established a grants program for schools, school districts, and County offices of education to promote integrated waste management education and waste reduction programs. Additionally, the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 (AB 939) required California counties to reduce their waste volumes by 50% by the year 2000; subsequently, an amendment requires counties to sustain waste reductions indefinitely. Although school districts are exempt from the County requirements, the City of Davis is one of a handful of cities in California to collaborate with the schools, in an effort to further assist with community waste reduction efforts.
Working within the RISE partnership, the City of Davis provides the schools with educational programs and materials, and assists with grant writing. Davis Waste Removal (DWR) supplies the schools with the basic equipment for students and staff to recycle, reduce, reuse, and compost at each elementary school site.
They have also purchased individual coolers, in order to return unopened milk to the cafeterias, and provided five-gallon compost buckets for each school. DWR plays a huge role in reviewing technical findings, revising waste bin pick-ups and providing new equipment such as waste bin locks, without which the RISE Program would falter. The Davis Educational Foundation (DEF) - "Farm to School Connection", (the force behind the "Crunch Lunch" program), works with the school PTAs to promote parent participation for the recycling program efforts, prepares informational packets and assists with RISE Program training for the parents.
In March 2004, DEF will present a two-day workshop, after school hours, for staff and teachers interested in nutrition and recycling. The DJUSD's supports the RISE Partnership through the work of its employees and the adoption of recycling-friendly policies. Because the District is one of the largest paper generators in Yolo County, a District recycling program is a key component to complying with the County's waste reduction efforts.
As the original School Gardens and RISE Recycling Coordinator, "retired" Pioneer teacher, Dorothy Peterson, is the driving energy behind the RISE Program. She is directly responsible for training the Site Coordinators, working with the RISE Program partners, assisting teachers and custodians, and overseeing the Program in general.
Richard Casias, Principal Scientist of the RCC Group, LLC, oversees the Program's technical aspects, including data analysis and reporting for each site, and evaluating the financial viability of the RISE Program. He has donated considerable hours of his firm's environmental management and consulting services in order to assist the DJUSD in reaching the 50 percent waste reduction goal.
DWR charges the District based on the frequency of trash dumpster pick-ups (recycling bins are provided free of charge). Diverting a portion of solid wastes into recycling and composting directions reduces the number of waste dumpsters the schools fill each day. DWR has also established a "greens curbside pick-up " which now allows the schools to place landscaping green wastes on the adjoining street for pick-up instead of discharging green wastes in the dumpsters. Based on the waste data collected during the first eight weeks of school, the schools have already begun to reduce the dumpster pick-up frequency, which translates into direct cost savings for the District.
The RISE Partnership anticipates a savings of approximately $30,000 for the 2003-04 school year. A website is in development by the Site Coordinators and the RCC Group, LLC to track waste reduction efforts, provide the school community with additional informational resources, and to provide updated Program information on a regular basis. The website can be accessed at www.DavisRISE.org .
As we know, school life goes beyond academic subjects. We all have a responsibility to leave the world a little better and a little cleaner. The success of the RISE Program depends on its many partners but ultimately the success comes down to the students and the daily efforts they make.
This Program shows students they can have a positive impact on their environment. As they learn to recycle, to keep their campus clean, to use reusable containers, to compost, and to feed their classroom worms, they see the difference they can make in their world around them.
To insure the RISE Program's success, the partnership asks the Davis public for their support in these efforts by refraining from using waste dumpsters and recycle bins at school sites. If you would like more information about the RISE Program, contact Dorothy Peterson at Coordinator@DavisRISE.org or your school's Recycling Site Coordinator. Written by Nicole Starsinic, firstname.lastname@example.org , with contributions from Dorothy Peterson.