King County, Wash., Students, Staff, Teachers Work to Reduce Waste

King County, Wash., Students, Staff, Teachers Work to Reduce Waste

The amount of trash generated by schools can be impressive, from paper to food scraps, the impact is great. But staff across the King County, Wash., school system are working to educate students about their impact on what does and doesn’t make it to landfill.

Like most schools across the country, King County’s schools produce a lot of trash. But this year, the county’s students and teachers targeted classroom and cafeteria waste through projects and awareness. King County Executive Dow Constantine recently recognized those waste reduction efforts through the county’s Earth Heroes at School Program.

“Many schools in King County are enhancing their recycling programs by including food waste prevention and diversion in their efforts,” said King County Public Works Division Director Pat McLaughlin.

In schools, food waste makes up about 30 to 50 percent of total garbage volume, she says.

“The King County Green Schools Program assists its participating schools in educating students about waste-free lunches and also helps in setting up systems for collecting food scraps that are then transported to a composting facility,” says McLaughlin.

Paper is the other major component of a school’s waste stream. Schools employ such strategies as waste audits to help understand the problem. Students and staff also use recycling monitors, skits, morning announcements, and students-made videos to promote ways to solve it, she says.

Among this year’s Earth Heroes was the county’s Issaquah School District. In 2005, the district, had a district-wide recycling rate of 30 percent. Students, teachers and custodians across the district of 24 schools continue working to change that. In the first six years of work toward reducing waste and increasing recycling, the recycling rate grew to 56 percent. The district attributes its success to a district-wide Green Team made up of custodians and teachers who share best practices at meetings scheduled three times per year.

Constantine also recognized Sandy Zimmermann, a student at the county’s Burien’s Big Picture High. Zimmerman initiated a trash audit as her senior project.

Her efforts paid off. Zimmerman’s project expanded the school’s recycling program by her efforts to organize a pep rally to motivate students to properly recycle, and by coordinating support from the district, facility staff, and teachers. The project was the culmination of four years of environmental commitment by Zimmerman.

In her project notes, Zimmerman said she first targeted the paperboard milk cartons thrown with away with the rest of the food waste. Her goal was to get the students thinking about separation and reuse. “I want to shift my school’s thinking on how important reducing our waste output really is,” she says.

The winners are stewards of the environment, Constantine says. They are heroes for conserving resources, protecting the environment, and spreading the word about sustainable practices.

Zimmerman received her award along with, three student groups, four school programs, eight teachers and seven other school employees. Many winners also participate in the King County Green Schools Program, which helps schools take specific actions to conserve natural resources and reduce waste.

“To succeed in confronting climate change, we must inspire and mobilize our 2 million residents to create a more sustainable King County,” Constantine says. “What makes the winners of the Earth Heroes at School Awards so special is that they don’t simply talk about doing good things for the environment—they take action.”

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