NIWOT — Julie Breyer’s third-grade class at Niwot Elementary got a lesson in recycling and composting last week by seeing what happens when they don’t do it — by digging through the school trash.
The school is one of five Boulder County schools to join Eco-Cycle’s Green Star Schools program. Two of those, Niwot and Lyons elementaries, are in the St. Vrain Valley School District.
Children at Green Star schools have reusable utensils, cups, bowls and trays instead of single-use Styrofoam containers. They use cloth napkins. Milk and juice containers go into recyclable bins, and food waste such as apple cores and sandwich crusts head for the compost bin.
“It’s amazing how much we throw away that we shouldn’t,” Niwot principal Mike Keppler said.
In the spring of 2005, Eco-Cycle launched the Green Star Schools project. As part of this program, Boulder County and Broomfield County schools were among the first in the nation to move toward zero waste by addressing every aspect of each school’s trash.
Large-scale composting of food waste and non-recyclable paper from the cafeteria, classrooms, offices and bathrooms (paper towels) has cut participating schools’ trash by one-third. Another third is diverted by the recycling program.
A Waste-Free Lunch campaign and other waste-reduction projects focus on the remaining one-third of each school’s waste that is not recyclable or compostable.
First, students conduct a trash audit to see what they’re throwing away in the classroom, bathroom and cafeteria trash bins.
Niwot and Lyons elementaries conducted their trash audits last week. After the trash audits — in which students saw firsthand what should be recycled, composted or thrown away — each school holds a schoolwide assembly to kick off the program.
Breyer’s third-graders, under the guidance of Eco-Cycle Green Star Schools coordinator Nancy Dudek, were either absolutely fascinated or completely disgusted by getting down and dirty with the school’s trash.
Student Roberto Ramirez said he wanted to do his part to reduce waste.
“We can help the environment to stay clean,” he said as he and his classmates dug through the day’s trash of leftover tissues, broken pencils, and hot lunch of chicken patties, fries and apple sauce.
Kitchen manager Marian Ting said the school already reduced its waste by 52 percent last fall during a trash-free lunch contest, which she said was “pretty impressive.”
She had reminded the students to recycle what they could, and “mostly, I just made them eat their lunch.”
“Kids want to do their part. They want to do the right thing,” she said.
Ting said the cafeteria alone used to put out nine to 10 bags of trash every day. Now at five bags a day, she expects that number to drop considerably with the school’s participation in the Green Star program.
Ting said students will reap the benefits of their hard work later this spring. The school will receive 10 yards of compost yielded from the compost bins, which are transported by Eco-Cycle staff to A1 Organics in Platteville, and distribute it to the students and use some on school property.
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Eco-Cycle’s Green Star Schools participants include:
• Bear Creek Elementary
• Boulder Community School of Integrated Studies
• Columbine Elementary (Boulder)
• Creekside Elementary
• Douglass Elementary
• Eisenhower Elementary
• Foothill Elementary
• High Peak Elementary
• Heatherwood Elementary
• Horizons K-8
• Lyons Elementary
• Mesa Elementary
• Nederland Elementary
• Niwot Elementary
For more information, call Eco-Cycle at 303-444-6634.