Change is hard but "you gotta try it": Hockinson Heights' waste reduction journey

milk

Change is hard, but at Hockinson Heights Elementary they haven't let that stop them from making huge changes to make their school more sustainable. When we started working with them in 2017, all the waste from lunch was being thrown in the garbage, including recyclables. 

In order for change to happen there needs to be someone to take the first step. At Hockinson, teachers Nancy O'Neill-Bratt, Nathan Tracey and Megan Miles started by forming a Green Team. The Green Team identified the cafeteria, and everything that was being thrown away, as the first project they wanted to take on. First, we helped them with a waste audit and recorded all that was being thrown in the garbage in the cafeteria. We found that almost 40 percent of what was being thrown in the garbage was food (uneaten and partially eaten) and 30 percent were items that could have been recycled. Students saw that by adding recycling and composting to their cafeteria they could reduce waste by nearly 70 percent. The biggest surprise for students and staff was finding five gallons of uneaten, whole apples in the trash!

Click the image to read letters the Green Team students wrote to the school board about why they wanted a milk dispenser at their school!

To make effective and lasting changes, the whole school community needs to be involved by knowing about the problem, why it is important to address and what they can do to support positive change. Hockinson used many of the resources we provide to teach everyone in the school about waste - what is waste? Why should we reduce waste? Why are recycling and composting important? What choices can we make to reduce waste? Learning about composting, recycling and waste reduction is fun for the whole school with an assembly with storyteller Will Hornyak. After the assembly, they were ready to add recycling and composting to the cafeteria. The Green Team taught the school how to sort their lunch waste correctly. At the follow-up audit we found that adding recycling and composting in the cafeteria reduced the amount of garbage produced by over 80 percent!

Inspired by the five gallons of uneaten apples found in the trash during the first waste audit, they added a share table to the cafeteria. Students can place uneaten whole fruit and packaged foods on the share table where they can be taken by students who are still hungry. To reduce waste further, they asked to be the next school to receive a milk dispenser and reusable cups provided by us with funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology's Local Solid Waste Financial Assistance fund. After seeing their passion, hard work, and amazing results reducing cafeteria waste, we thought they were the perfect fit for the milk dispenser program!

Watch the video below to see how the dispenser was launched and how students and staff have managed to make such an impact at their school. They went from throwing everything in the garbage to being superstar waste reduction experts in just two years.

Great job, Hockinson Heights Elementary! 

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