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Cumberland community expands Zero Waste program

Zero Waste Champions are students who instruct their peers on how to sort compost and recycling from garbage

Cumberland students perform a skit about recyclingRECYCLE! REDUCE! REUSE!

This is one of the mantras we’ve embraced at Cumberland Elementary, where we have launched our Zero Waste Initiative. What does “zero waste” mean? In the City of Sunnyvale, the goal is to reduce the volume of waste and conserving/recovering all resources. With that goal in mind, and in partnership with our PTA, the City of Sunnyvale, Cumberland staff members, and student helpers, we have been able to successfully teach about this topic and implement indoor and outdoor recycling of plastic containers/paper and the collection of food waste. Our dedicated and passionate Zero Waste Parent Committee has worked hard to expand the practices of going “zero waste” through education and promotion of the initiative at various PTA events all year long.


At the beginning of last school year, we strategically placed color-coded bins with clear labels in the cafeteria, courtyard and breezeways, staff lounge and the Child Development Center (CDC) that allow users to sort garbage, food waste, recyclable containers, and paper. Sandra Jensen and Lisa Coelho, Solid Waste Specialists with the Environmental Services Department for the City of Sunnyvale, worked with us every step of the way to ensure proper training and successful implementation. Parent volunteers came daily during the first three weeks of school to man the bins at recess and lunch and helped direct students in proper waste disposal.

In their place, student helpers, known as “Zero Waste Champions,” took over the job, rotating daily to help their classmates with the sometimes-tricky business of deciding which container to throw their trash. Our custodians, Mr. Valencia, Mr. Farias and Mr. Kakaio, our Cafeteria Assistant, Ms. Tran, and those who help oversee students at lunch, Mrs. Gronovius, Mrs. Vo, and our noon aides, have also taken an active role in ensuring that the operations of this initiative continue to run smoothly on a daily basis.

Now that the student body has it down, a smaller team of “Zero Waste Champions” from Mrs. Rodriguez’s and Ms. Wise’s classes support the initiative in various ways. Daily, students are responsible for moving the bins to and from the food areas to make it easier for all students to dispose of their snack and lunch rubbish properly. This same group of students also acted out a Zero Waste skit at one of our Cool Cougar Assemblies. This skit, written and directed by Ariel Yule and Rebecca Richardson (PTA Zero Waste Chairs), served to remind and encourage students to strive to reduce, reuse and recycle at home and at school. Food scraps from our program will be processed and made into animal feed or nutrient-rich compost instead of being thrown in the landfill. A much more beneficial use than landfilling it.

REDUCE and REUSE!!!students used color-coded bins for composting, recycling and trash

In order to spread the word beyond our school walls, our PTA Zero Waste team has worked to make our various PTA events “zero waste events.” Marie Clapp and the Walker Treats Team for our Walk-a-thon put a lot of thought into a plan to encourage and enable students to use their own reusable water bottles (instead of using disposable cups) at this year’s Walk-a-thon. Naama Arbel-Neuman and Ariel Yule, PTA co-chairs for International Night, implemented a successful ZW event, where most everyone brought their own reusable containers, cups, and utensils. Prizes given out that night included a reusable utensil set!!! Students were very happy to use them. The latest idea to come from our PTA team, originating from Francoise Allamanche (next year’s PTA Zero Waste Chair)…Zero Waste Parties. To spread the word and the practice of being zero waste, we’ll be inviting all parents and students to bring reusable dishware from home on class party days.

As you can see, it’s taken a lot of work and a huge team to promote and implement zero waste practices at Cumberland and beyond. We hope our work will inspire others on this mission to take better care of the planet and we are excited that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached out to incorporate learnings from this program into their national webinar.

This article was written by Cumberland Assistant Principal Laurie Carlson.

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