Lakewood Elementary implements food scraps and milk carton recycling

Lakewood Lions separate compostable waste from trash and recycling.
Lakewood Lions separate compostable waste from trash and recycling.

Students and staff at Lakewood Elementary School are helping to reduce waste heading to the landfill, one lunch period at a time.

With the guidance of the City of Sunnyvale Environmental Services Department and Leadership Sunnyvale, Lakewood Elementary School implemented a new recycling program in March, and has successfully been diverting food waste and milk cartons from trash cans to compost and recycling bins.

Leadership Sunnyvale team members, Nick Nabhan and Tomer Shapira, both from Specialty Solid Waste & Recycling, contacted Sandy Jensen,  Sunnyvale’s Residential and  Schools Recycling Coordinator, asking if she could recommend a school that might be interested in participating in a  recycling project as part of the requirements for completing the Leadership Sunnyvale program. Jensen recommended Lakewood because she had performed a garbage audit in November of 2015 that showed there was potential to reduce a big portion of their waste.

The audit uncovered that 40 percent of the waste stream at Lakewood was food scraps, plus another 38 percent was potentially recoverable food that could be donated. About two percent of the waste stream had recyclables in it. Once the compostable and recyclable items were sorted out, 13 bags of trash were reduced to one.

Zero waste pilot program creators Nick Nabhan, Sandy Jensen, and Tomer Shapira.
Zero waste pilot program creators Nick Nabhan, Sandy Jensen, and Tomer Shapira.

The Leadership Sunnyvale team agreed to work with Lakewood on implementing a food scraps and milk carton recycling collection program. The team purchased new bins to use for a milk pouring station, carton recycling and compost collection. Leadership Sunnyvale team members and City staff set up the waste receptacles and provided a demonstration for the students on how to use them during regular lunch times.

On March 28, the new waste sorting process began. Health Ambassador students took the lead in helping students sort their lunch waste as they came to the recycling stations and, as the program has progressed, third grade student teams are now being trained to set up and take down the new system. At the request of the students, the sorting bins will be made available during the four other meals served at Lakewood through-out the day.

“They are most the remarkable children,” said Sandy Jensen. “I saw even the littlest ones doing it correctly. Talk about a joyful moment!”

Lakewood students empty what milk they didn't drink into a special bin, so that they can recycle the cartons rather than throw them away.
Lakewood students empty what milk they didn’t drink into a special bin, so that they can recycle the cartons rather than throw them away.

Lakewood is working with the City to reduce garbage service levels and subsequently reduce garbage costs. While yet to be determined, it’s possible Lakewood could see a $2,000 per month savings in garbage costs. Though Leadership Sunnyvale team members have completed their project, City staff will continue to monitor, reinforce student training and fine-tune the process until Lakewood students and staff feel confident to maintain the process on their own.  A daily average of 80 pounds of food, five to 10 gallons of milk and a half cubic yard of milk cartons have been diverted from the landfill since the program started up in mid-April.

The staff and students at Lakewood who worked to make this program a success should be applauded for their efforts to teach the student body the proper way to sort their materials and keep it out of the trash,” Jensen added. “The lessons learned have been tremendous both from a waste reduction as well as a food waste perspective.”

Given the enthusiasm and success at Lakewood, City staff are looking for opportunities to implement the program at more elementary schools, including the possibility of having recovered food donated to a food rescue organization. This will certainly help the Sunnyvale Elementary School District realize even greater waste diversion and cost savings, and assist the City in reaching its Zero Waste Strategic Plan goal of 75 percent diversion by 2020.

“None of this would have been possible without the people in the community wanting to make a difference,” said Lakewood Principal Pamela Cheng. “It’s one thing to say you are coming every day, to be out here at lunch every day, teaching our students, that is really admirable.”

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