Each day for the past 22 years, Marie Woots, School Aide, stands in the entrance of the MS 126 cafeteria serving line and counts on a clicker the number of students that receive trays with three out of the five USDA food-pyramid groups on it. Only students that take three out of five are counted. All students are given three items. Marie gives these numbers to the assistant cook who gives the number to the head chef who enters it into a book that the school food manager uses to prepare his monthly report to the Office of School Food.
Inside the cafeteria, as part of the National Wildlife Federation’s Greenpoint Eco-Schools program, focusing on the Consumption and Waste Pathway of Sustainability, the Trash Masters monitor the waste bins at the sorting station. The Trash Masters are a newly formed Eco School recycling team. The 15-member team takes turns during lunch managing the cafeteria sorting stations. They help their classmates develop new behaviors by providing guidance and assistance at the five waste bins at the sorting station —1) liquids, 2) cartons, bottles, glass, foil, hard plastic ; 3) landfill soft plastic a; 4) food scraps/ paper; and 5) stacked compostable plates . “I think it’s getting better. Everyone seems to be trying,” said Mickeyla, a seventh grade Trash Master “Everyone is putting objects where they are supposed to go,” chimes in Ricardo.
“Yeah, I think they are doing okay”, adds Johnathan, as he peers into the land fill bin, retrieves a hard plastic container and announces, “This doesn’t belong here!” and slam dunks it into the blue bin. He is meticulous about the landfill bin because he understands landfill waste lasts forever.
But today is especially hard because very few students are eating the hot fruit cup which is packaged in a hard plastic container with a clear plastic cover. In recycling terms this is a nightmare. At the sorting station, it goes like this: open the container, throw cover into landfill, contents into food scraps and the hard plastic container into the “blue bin”. Students stand baffled before the five waste bins…holding up the line and creating opportunities for impatient and reluctant recyclers to dump plates into the closest bin and flee. Ricardo and Mickeyla cheerfully remind them, point to the correct bin —and restrain themselves from grabbing the fruit cup and doing it themselves.
“It’s too much food.” a student mutters as he dumps everything into food scraps except the cheese pocket. “It’s dumb…taking food I don’t want, he explains as Mickeyla looks at him in a tone of voice only principals or mothers can muster.
“I think they should stop serving us so much pizza,” Johnathan suggests. Students are starting to think deeply about Waste and Consumption—about their personal habits, as well as school practices; they are beginning to ask questions, make observations, and connect the dots…and in terms of sustainability that’s just the beginning of understanding everyday systems that affect us all.
Fai Walker is a Sustainability Coach at MS 126 for the National Wildlife Federation Greenpoint Eco-Schools Program.