Eco-Cycle's Green Star Schools Program
Schools throughout Boulder County are partnering with Eco-Cycle to move toward Zero Waste through increased recycling, the implementation of composting, and special waste reduction activities. The project is part of Eco-Cycle’s award-winning School Recycling and Environmental Education Program. The Green Star Schools are the first in the nation to reduce waste in every aspect of school life. As a result of implementing the program, up to two-thirds of the discards from each of the Green Star Schools is kept out of landfills.
A new way of doing lunch
One of the most noticeable changes for students at Green Star Schools is their new way of handling lunch leftovers.
During the lunch hour, instead of dumping food scraps, plastic utensils and excess packaging into a trash can, kids use a special station where they deposit reusable service ware into hot, soapy water to be washed and reused; milk and juice containers into a recycling bin; and sandwich crusts, banana peels, other food leftovers, and non-recyclable paper such as napkins or paper towels into a compost bin.
Kids who bring lunch from home are encouraged to eliminate trash by bringing a waste-free lunch, replacing overly-packaged foods with Zero Waste alternatives such as cloth lunch bags, cloth napkins, reusable utensils, and reusable or recyclable drink and food containers. Students who opt to order food from the cafeteria menu are served lunch in reusable bowls and cups rather than polystyrene (a.k.a.“Styrofoam”) and eat with washable, reusable cutlery. By purchasing with Zero Waste in mind, the school staff has eliminated most disposables from Green Star Schools’ cafeterias.
Going for Zero Waste in the classrooms, halls, and washrooms
It’s not just the reduction of lunchtime waste that’s impressive at these schools—it’s the commitment students, teachers, kitchen staff, custodial staff and administrators have made to reduce waste all day long. Throughout the halls and classrooms, discards are treated differently. Recycling and composting bins—not trash cans—are ubiquitous. Even in the washrooms, students are reminded they are part of a very special program: Compost containers have replaced trash cans for used paper towels and tissues.
Thinking critically about resource use
The Green Star Schools program also includes a strong education component. Zero Waste training includes site visits, faculty meetings, waste audits, kick-off assemblies, class-by-class instruction and lunchroom monitoring. Throughout the year, Eco-Cycle staff continues to give classroom presentations on recycling, composting, waste reduction and other environmental topics, such as pollution, household hazardous waste, forest ecology, and energy conservation. Students learn to think critically about their own resource use and how they can conserve natural resources, reduce waste and protect our environment.
Special waste reduction activities
Eco-Cycle provides special waste reduction projects every year to help the Green Star Schools reduce their waste even further. Since fall 2006, Eco-Cycle has offered yearly worm bin composting seminars for Green Star Schools teachers, students and families. Other projects include paper reduction campaigns, Zero Waste school fundraisers, etc.
Eco-Cycle provides ongoing trainings and special waste reduction activities for Green Star Schools. In order to gauge progress toward Zero Waste and provide concrete feedback for students, Eco-Cycle conducts “waste audits” where students and staff dig through the trash to see what is being thrown out and how their actions can impact the waste stream. Other projects include Waste-Free Lunches (reducing the amount of disposable packaging), and Zero Waste School Events, such as spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfasts and other school fundraising events. Since fall 2006, Eco-Cycle has offered yearly worm bin composting seminars for Green Star Schools teachers, students and families. In addition, Eco-Cycle works with school food service staff to discontinue the use of disposable plastic, paper and polystyrene (a.k.a. “Styrofoam”) service ware and substitute reusable food serviceware whenever possible.
All public schools in Boulder County are part of Eco-Cycle’s School Recycling Program, actively recycling mixed paper and commingled containers. In addition, schools in the Boulder Valley School District are recycling hard-to-recycle materials with Eco-Cycle, such as electronic waste and books. At Green Star Schools, students and teachers are retrained on recycling guidelines and motivated to increase their overall recycling rate. Recycling collection opportunities are expanded to include additional bins for drink containers in both the cafeterias and classrooms.
Implement Collection of Compostables
Collection of compostables includes food scraps and non-recyclable paper from the kitchen, cafeteria, classrooms and bathrooms (paper towels). Organic materials are sent to a large-scale composting facility (rather than the landfill). Education projects, such as field trips and presentations, increase awareness about the benefits of composting.
Improve Environmental Awareness & Motivate Participation
Students in Green Star Schools learn how consumption patterns, waste generation and the handling of waste affect natural resources and environmental quality. As participants, students see how their daily actions conserve or deplete natural resources, energy and landfill space. Field trips, special waste reduction projects, newspaper ad recognition, a spring compost delivery and awards help motivate schools and thank them for their participation.
Lower Each School’s Trash Bill
Most of the 80 schools participating in Eco-Cycle’s School Recycling and Environmental Education Program are diverting one-third of their waste from the landfill. By implementing the Green Star Schools program, another one-third of waste is diverted due to increased recycling and the collection of organic materials. The overall average rate of diversion for the Green Star Schools is two-thirds. Such high diversion rates could not be accomplished without the ongoing education, training and troubleshooting Eco-Cycle provides and customizes for each school, and the full participation of thousands of students and staff.
Green Star Schools’ students, parents and staff are invited to collaborate with us to create Zero Waste School Events such as fundraising dinners. School program staff work with the planning committee of parents and/or teachers to ensure all food service items are recyclable, compostable or reusable. Eco-Cycle staffs the Zero Waste station and an information table at the event.
Since 2006, Green Star Schools have been offered yearly worm bin education workshops for families and teachers . The training includes a presentation on composting, worms and worm bin maintenance, as well as a free worm bin. The teacher workshops also include curriculum and activity ideas to incorporate the worm bins into day-to-day teaching.
As a “thank you” to all the Green Star Schools in their first and second years, Eco-Cycle delivers a load of compost to each school in April . The compost is used on school grounds and in the classrooms, and is given to students, families and staff to use at home. Creekside Elementary used the compost in their school garden project and other schools use it for major landscaping projects.
To show our appreciation to the student sponsor groups at each school, each group receives an end-of-the-year party and/or a funded field trip to the Boulder County Recycling Center and a large-scale composting facility.
An important part of making the Green Star Schools project a success is avoiding waste in the first place. Did you know that approximately 1/3 of all trash is packaging? For this reason, we are asking students and their families to pack waste-free lunches by using recyclable and reusable containers whenever possible.
Here are some tips for helping students create a waste-free lunch:
- use reusable lunch bags or boxes
- pack food in reusable containers
- bring drinks in refillable or recyclable containers
- save and reuse plastic bags
- use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins
- provide reusable eating utensils
Old clothes can be made into cloth napkins, thrift shops sell cheap eating utensils and food containers can be reused to hold snacks. Even doing one or two things from the list above will make a big difference.
Throw your own Zero Waste Event
Throw a Zero Waste meeting, baby shower, bat or bar mitvah, conference, wedding, barbeque, birthday party—you name it. Our Zero Waste Event Kit is everything you need to host groups from 25 to 150 people. Find more information about our kit.
Eco-Cycle’s Zero Waste Services program for businesses, Eco-Leader Volunteer program and Green Star Schools program all complement one another, reinforcing the new paradigm of Zero Waste and creating lasting social change in our community.
Ultimately, we expect the Green Star Schools program will serve as a model for other local and international schools and communities striving for Zero Waste.
Media inquiries & questions
Please contact Cyndra Dietz , Eco-Cycle’s School Recycling and Environmental Education Program Director (303) 444-6634 ext. 122.
Articles from Our Educators
Cyndra Dietz, Director of Eco-Cycle's School Recycling and Environmental Educations Programs, won the 2012 Pacesetter Award in Education from the Camera.
The Green Star Schools program was recognized with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8 Environmental Achievement Award in 2007.
Eco-Cycle’s School Recycling and Environmental Education Program was the recipient of the 2007 Boulder Rotary Club Our World Award .