Hockinson Heights Elementary Takes Initiatives to Reduce Waste

Students and teachers at Hockinson Heights Elementary do a waste audit

Hockinson Heights Elementary is one of the newest schools to take the leap towards becoming a Green School. Since late last year, Nathan Tracey, 4th grade teacher, Nancy O'Neill-Bratt, art teacher, and Megan Miles, music teacher, have taken the initiative to form a green team and push for change. At the end of lunch, essentially everything was going into the garbage. 

In March, the Green Schools team conducted a waste audit, where we sorted and analyzed one day's worth of garbage and recycling. The results were insightful and gave the school an idea of what could be done differently. By weight, almost 40% of the garbage was comprised of food waste (eaten and uneaten). By volume, more than a third of garbage was recycling. More than 5 gallons of uneaten apples were found disposed of. This waste of food was a clear signal to Hockinson Heights that something had to change. On the scale of just one school, the wasted energy and resources required to grow the uneaten apples is excessive. Hockinson clearly saw that there were tremendous amounts of waste generated that could be easily stopped with coordination of Green Schools outreach and logistical planning.

"Hockinson is finally on the Green Team map! Our sorting table is working well. Volunteer 5th and 4th graders are supervising their peers and younger students as they proceed down the line. You can tell that the students are really proud of their accomplishments, also. Hopefully our Elementary School will be able to inspire Hockinson Middle School and Hockinson High School to join in!"

Nancy O'Neill-Bratt, art teacher and green team leader
Storyteller Will Hornyak helps students learn at Hockinson Heights Elementary

This October, Clark County Green Schools spent time at Hockinson Heights to offer a variety of educational programming. Storyteller, Will Hornyak, came to educate and entertain students about the importance of proper waste sorting, composting and waste reduction, as well as about the importance of keeping watersheds free of trash in an assembly to the school. We also provided Hockinson Heights a new sort table, with proper signage. Clark County Green Schools monitored the first week of using the sort table and trained volunteer monitors, parents and students alike. Before the sort table was implemented, there would be an average of four 32 gallon garbage cans of waste after all the lunches on a given day. The first day of using the sort table, and going forward, only one can of garbage was generated after all K-5 lunches! This is a reduction in waste production of 75% which is very impressive!

To reduce the amount of uneaten food going in food waste bins, we also started a share table. Share tables are for students to place uneaten food and drinks provided by the cafeteria. Examples of share table items are unopened dairy and juice products, uncut/unpeeled fruits and veggies like whole apples, and unopened snacks like crackers or cheese sticks. Hockinson has a portable cold storage container for milk and dairy, which is required for refrigerated goods. These items can be taken by other students who would like an extra snack or milk, or donated.

With all stories of success, there are almost always deterrents that have to be managed. Soon after the sort table rollout, there was nearly a week of early release days for parent-teacher conferences. This resulted in the decision to have brownbag lunches that the students could take home if they were not hungry. This idea of taking home lunches was not properly distributed around the extended school community, and many of the lunches were disposed on site. Because these lunches were heavy in garbage and disposable content, it presented a unique challenge for a school that had just undertaken a fairly major change in lunchroom procedures. Luckily, the cafeteria and custodial staff accommodated with extra recycle bins for paper bags and planned accordingly with moving students in and out of the cafeteria.

Hockinson Heights Elementary has started its waste reduction system strong, and we hope to see good results from them in the days to come. They have the tools they need for success in reducing waste in their cafeteria. Special thanks to the great administrator support Principal Josh Robertson and Assistant Principal Meredith Gannon, in addition to district office support. The custodial team of Randy Dickinson and Bruce Davis also stepped up to help make the change. It takes a school-wide effort to implement these types of lasting changes. 

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