BY ABBY WIDELL —
Atwater Elementary School’s new and improved recycling program, implemented in February, focuses on reducing waste and teaching students about environmental responsibility. After observing the enormous quantity of waste produced in the cafeteria, Lora Caton, Atwater parent and recycling enthusiast, decided it was time for a change.
“We’re throwing away so many plastic spoons, forks, and bags everyday so I thought, since recycling is becoming a major part of our culture these days, there’s no reason why Atwater can’t be doing it,” Caton said.
Caton and Kayla Russick, Atwater principal, began looking for effective ways to cut waste production, including switching back to metal utensils and actually teaching students how to recycle.
Caton received a grant from the Atwater PTO to buy metal silverware for the lunchroom, and she took the magnetic garbage can lids out of storage, which retrieves carelessly discarded utensils. Additionally, the school participates in Trash Free Tuesdays every week.
“We recycle everyday of the week, but Tuesdays we try especially hard not to produce any trash,” Caton said.
On these days, students are encouraged to minimize food waste, and bring reusable containers if they consume lunches from home.
Through the school’s character education system, there are five main qualities, or PERKS, Perseverance, Empathy, Responsibility, Kindness, and Self Discipline, that students are expected to follow.
“Recycling goes along with responsibility because it’s our responsibility to take care of the lunch room, and our Earth,” said Russick.
While there is not yet a system for quantifying the amount of change happening in the lunchroom, the improvements are vast enough to be seen in plain sight.
“The amount of trash being thrown away is quite noticeably decreasing. We have even been able to go down to one garbage can during lunch and there are 534 students who use it,” Russick said.
This success is due in huge part to the students, who have displayed high levels of cooperation while adapting to a new system, and for some, this involved forming brand new recycling habits. Recycling may seem like an easy task, but it takes practice and repetition, and students who don’t have experience with recycling need to build awareness.
“The kids seem to like it. We have noticed that the kindergarten and first graders are way better at it than the older students but they are all very cooperative. Nevertheless, students are becoming more conscious of recycling,” Russick said.
In previous years, Atwater has offered metal utensils, but they were frequently thrown away and managing the loss of so many forks and spoons became an expensive issue. Eventually, Atwater made the switch to less eco friendly, but more economically friendly plastic silverware.
“I remember when Atwater had real silverware. So much of it got thrown away and it became sort of a problem, but it seems like a few lost spoons are a small price to pay for taking care of the planet,” said Lucy Merkel, freshman and Atwater graduate.
The recycling program has also shed light on other areas for improvement regarding the school lunch program, and will be the basis for change in future years.