OCEANSIDE — Teachers and students at Libby Elementary and Nichols Elementary are “talking trash.” They are also talking waste reduction, reuse and recycling after adopting the Zero Waste Schools Initiative.
The two elementary sites join 13 other schools in the Oceanside Unified School District in taking the Zero Waste pledge and receiving coaching on waste reduction. The process to transform a school site from daily waste to close to zero waste takes a semester. City staff spends about 100 hours on campus to guide a school in the implementation zero waste practices.
First steps are a school waste audit and interactive waste reduction lessons. The city provides sites with educational materials and recycling bins.
During the audit all school waste is counted, and attention is focused on what could be recycled instead of put in the trash and landfills.
“City staff measure the amount of waste generated by the participating campus and then educate the entire school community on how to reduce their waste and recycle as much as they can,” Sarah Davis, city environmental specialist, said.
Schools work to implement a one-to-one trash to recycling ratio throughout the campus. That accomplishment takes schools from a 10 percent recycling rate to 70 percent recycling.
A tool used to reduce waste in offices is the desktop mini bin challenge. The two-sided wastebasket has a larger recycling container and smaller trash receptacle, which makes people stop and think about where waste is going.
“The Zero Waste Schools Initiative creates a culture of environmental responsibility for the students, teachers and staff,” Davis said.
In the classroom students learn environmental literacy and science. Outdoors there is gardening and small-scale composting for sites that are interested. The magnitude of the garden varies at each school as does the composting. Interested sites form a student “green team” to tend the garden and composting.
Palmquist Elementary boasts a quarter-acre irrigated organic garden known as the “community farm.” Produce grown in the thriving school garden is used in school lunches and sold at the local farmers market. Third-grade teacher Mark Wagner said students are involved in the garden year-round.
All schools in the district have a food share table to help reduce food waste. Instructions on leaving and taking packaged food are posted.
“The share tables allow other students to eat packaged food, otherwise thrown away in the landfill,” Davis said.
For sites that implement zero waste practices the pay off in trash hauling savings is big. If all 23 schools in the district adopt zero waste habits the estimated saving is $100,000.
An additional benefit is environmental responsibility taught on campus then permeates into the community inspiring families to recycle more at home.
The city launched the Zero Waste Schools Initiative in 2014. Oceanside Unified School District became the first district in the nation to commit to the Zero Waste goal.
The initiative began as a pilot program at a handful of schools and the district office. Each semester additional schools are trained in zero waste practices.
The goal is to reduce waste by 75 percent districtwide by 2020.