At PS 31, we have a very strong Green Team comprised of over 40 students and growing. These Green Team members have modeled their sustainability roles after Super Heroes—Waste Warriors, Guardians of the Guardian, Healthy Heroes, and more!
To support the Eco-Schools Waste and Consumption Pathway and PS 31’s goal of becoming a Zero Waste school, our most active Super Heroes have been our Waste Warriors. Every day during breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria, a few of our Waste Warriors stand behind the waste bins wearing rubber gloves and educating PS 31 students about how to properly separate and recycle their items. A few minutes into lunch and the Waste Warriors are ready for duty, requesting to help out at the bins. When their classmates see them behind the bins, they admire their work, one student even asked her Waste Warrior classmate, “How did you get promoted?” Lamyaa, responded, “We volunteered because we are members of the Green Team.”
We had some of our 4th and 5th grade Waste Warriors interview each other at our last Green Team meeting on their experience in the cafeteria.
Anthony S. and Sarah T. asked Christian O. “What items get tossed into what bin and how do you know?” Christian’s response was “liquid in the bucket, containers, aluminum foil, and sporks go into the blue bin, wrappers that you can crunch in your hand go in the landfill and food scraps go into the brown bin”. He knows how to do this because, “I do it every day and I picture it in my mind.” He followed up by saying, “the sporks are going pretty well; people are remembering that the spork has to be out of the wrapper like this.” He shows me by tearing off the packaging, and placing the hard plastic spork in the blue Plastics recycling bin, the soft plastic wrapper in the landfill, and the napkin in the brown organics bin.
Waste Warriors documented their observations and made recommendations for improvement on large poster paper taped on either side of a huge recycled cardboard box. Cameron suggests teachers could help by knowing what items go into the right bin. When asked if Mya and Grace like being Waste Warriors they said, “We love it!…because we get to move around and help educate others” Grace added, “it’s so fun and exciting plus I never stood behind the bins before.” Katlyn said she likes being a Waste Warrior, “because I like helping children”. Instead of taking the tray from a student and doing it for them, Katlyn informs them that the ketchup packaging goes in the landfill bin and the food in the brown organics bin.
When students are empowered to properly separate and educate others, not only does it increase recycling and the diversion rate but now they form relationships with members of the school community they might not have previously engaged with. Students work side by side with the PS 31 Cleaner and School Food staff, whereas before they didn’t know their names. It is most exciting when students experience the interdependence of the social and environmental impact of sustainability.