In the US, 40 million tons of food is wasted annually -enough to fill a football stadium daily (Bloom, 2011), and feed the world’s one billion malnourished people each year (Stuart, 2015). In addition, wasting food is neither fiscally nor environmentally responsible. The disposal of plastics and other recyclables is similarly problematic for the environment and human health. Thus, interest in sustainable materials management has taken hold in Wellesley and the Katharine Lee Bates Elementary School (Bates) decided to examine the generation and management of waste from its cafeteria. Bates became the first K-12 school in New England to join the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA’s) Food Recovery Challenge (FRC), as well as a participant in USEPA’s WasteWise (WW) initiative. The inspiring, replicable and sustainable program is now rolling out across the district and beyond to other towns. Approximately 380 students and 15 employees at Bates participate in the
program every lunch period. The program also raises awareness amongst the key supporters in government departments across the Town of Wellesley, activist organizations, and from dedicated parent volunteers. As this initiative makes its way into other Wellesley schools, it has the potential to inspire, more than 5000 students and families, and approximately 700 employees to think differently when it comes to sustainably managing food and food-related waste. With many diverse groups working together to make this collaborative program succeed, the influence is far and wide.
The program would not have been possible without Toni Jolley, Principal, who put time and resources behind the initiative; The Fifth Grade Recycling Leadership Team who designed the recycling area, and signage and who presented the program at an all-school assembly; Alfred Martignetti, custodian who crafted a liquid funneling system and who was infinitely flexible and patient; Joe McDonough and Mike Santangelo who gave essential support and advice from the Facilities Maintenance Department,; Tammy Vallee, Elementary Assistant, who kept the process moving and wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty; Matt Delaney, Food Services Director and his Whitsons Culinary Group team who welcomed the new process; The Assessment Committee (see below), who designed and implemented the waste assessment and pilot; Marybeth Martello, Sustainable Energy Administrator, who led this campaign; parent, high school and Green Schools volunteers, and the Bates studentbody and faculty who made it all come together. Janet Bowen of EPA was also a constant source of helpful knowledge. In order to participate in the Food Recovery Challenge and Waste Wise Programs, Bates School established a Bates Cafeteria Waste Assessment Committee (the Committee) that included Nancy Braun (Wellesley Green Schools), Gretchen Hall (Bates parent), Stephanie Hawkinson (Wellesley Natural Resources Commission), Marybeth Martello, and Alexa Plenge (Bates parent) who embarked on a three-phase process to (I) assess cafeteria waste, (2) implement a program to reduce and divert (from landfills) a certain percentage of this waste, and (3) evaluate the efficacy of the measures implemented in phase (2). Working together, the Fifth Grade Leadership Team, Assessment Committee, Al Martignetti, the Facilities Maintenance Department, and the Assessment Committee designed a pilot program that would take a sizeable step toward the ultimate goal of diverting 93% (by weight) of total waste. This pilot included donation of unopened, prepackaged food from school lunches, diversion of liquid down a slop sink, and recycling of cartons, straw, utensils, plastic food containers aluminum foil, and
cardboard lunch trays etc. In addition, Principal Jolley rearranged the lunch schedule so that grades 2-5 had theirown lunch periods. A larger number of lunch periods created a quieter, calmer cafeteria environment in which kids could focus on eating and waste less food. Bates also minimizes food waste by scheduling recess before lunch.
After rolling out this program in early October 2017, Bates school succeeded in diverting 40% (by weight) of its previously land-fill bound waste. The initial assessment –sorting waste into the eight categories suggested, in part, by the USEPA Food Recovery Hierarchy: donation, liquid, animal feed, complex compost, simple compost, recyclables, trash, and napkin/utensil packets –examined how waste varies with type of lunch and age of student. Key findings included that Bates cafeteria generated approximately 371 pounds of waste per week, which
extrapolates to over 13,000 pounds per school year that used to go to a landfill, school lunches generated
approximately four times the waste (by weight, excluding liquid) compared to home lunches. There was no significant difference in the amount of waste generated by younger versus older students (K-5). Of the 371 lbs. of waste generated during the assessment week, 344 lbs. of that waste (93%) could be diverted to more productive and less harmful endpoints. Effective communication played an important role in the program’s success.
The Fifth Grade Leadership Team was critical in teaching fellow students and school staff and faculty about the benefits of sustainable materials management and how Bates students could participate by reducing waste and by correctly disposing of their lunch waste. Emails from Principal Jolley to parents, publicized the program to families and attracted parent volunteers to help in the cafeteria as students got used to the system. The Assessment Team also spread the word through presentations to Town organizations and departments. On March 30, the Bates assessment effort will be part of a national webinar in USEPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Web Academy. The Bates cafeteria program is already serving as a model for other schools. Bates documented their cafeteria waste
assessment process in a report found at Bates Cafeteria Waste Assessment, which has been publicized by the EPA. The Bates assessment process will also be featured in a national webinar through EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Academy on March 30, 2017.
This spring, two other Wellesley elementary schools are implementing food recovery and recycling programs, based on the Bates pilot. The Bates project also helped to inspire a bottle
recycling program at Wellesley Middle School. The Bates team has hosted a number of visitors, interested in learning about the program, and has also developed PowerPoint presentations and a checklist to help teach other schools how to develop recycling and food recovery programs. To sustain such a program, it does require a commitment from administration, staff, parents, and students to ensure its sustainability from year to year. Leadership from Principal Jolley, Facilities Maintenance Department, and Al Martignetti have been essential. School staff, parent volunteers, and interested students are also critical in helping to maintain a smooth-running program. The only added costs arose from modest supplies used to make the signage and from a switch from opaque to clear plastic bags to hold recycling as the recycling vendor prefers clear plastic.
The Bates program helped students to understand how they can make a difference in their community by reducing contributions to landfills and greenhouse gas emissions, keeping plastics out of the environment, and feeding hungry people. A number of motivated students volunteered to be part of the The Fifth Grade Recycling Leadership Team. This group organized the waste receptacles in the cafeteria, designed and created signage for the receptacles, and developed and delivered a presentation and demonstration for an all-school assembly. During this assembly the fifth graders taught their fellow students about the benefits of food recovery and recycling, about what items can be
recycled, and about how to proceed through the new cafeteria stations. Fifth graders applied their own problem solving abilities, creativity, and presentation skills to the development of the cafeteria program; and the program continues to remind all Bates students about how they can take on civic responsibilities and contribute to their community.