Washougal WA — Gause Elementary has a new team. It’s the Green Team! And, their goal is to make the school and world a better place by participating in Waste Connection’s Clark County Green Schools program to reduce school waste. Waste Connections works with Clark County Green Schools.
“It is important for kids this age to learn about how to care for the environment and understand the importance and benefits of recycling,” said Ellen Lancaster, Gause Day Custodian and Green Team Adviser. “We want to start good habits and build a culture of recycling at Gause.”
As a part of the Green Team program the school received receptacles for use during cafeteria meals to sort waste. “These containers make the process of separating food scraps from garbage and recycling easy to do and understand with colorful bins and clear labels,” said Lancaster.
And this is where the Gause Green Team, comprised of around a dozen third to fifth graders, springs into action.
“Our members monitor the containers at lunchtime and watch to help make sure students are sorting items properly and using the correct receptacles,” Lancaster explained.
Waste Connections picks up the food waste from a cart left with regular recycling and garbage containers. Waste Connections partners with Dirt Hugger to transport food waste to Dirt Hugger’s composting facility in Dallesport, Washington. Once there, food scraps decompose and are turned into a nutrient-rich soil additive.
“The production of waste has enormous impacts on environments, economies, and societies throughout the world,” said Ellen Ives, Waste Connection Sustainability and Waste Reduction Educator. “Each of us has a responsibility to understand the impacts of the waste we produce, how much we produce, and how we can make choices to reduce waste and protect natural resources and human health.”
An important step in Gause earning Green School Certification, is to perform a waste audit that took place on December 5 after school.
“We worked with Ellen Ives and Clark County Green Schools staff to look at a day’s recycling and garbage from classrooms and the cafeteria,” said Lancaster. “Students sorted out each waste stream and determine what is recycling and what is garbage. They also asked themselves, ‘Was this put in the right place?’”
Fourth grade student, Olive Krysak, was a part of the audit and was amazed at how much recyclable materials and reusable items were in the classroom trash.
“It was really kind of sad,” she commented. “A crayon might be broken, but you can still use it! People need to learn the proper way to throw away things, so recyclable items and everything are in the right place.”
Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton was also on hand to help sort trash during the audit. More Washougal schools are becoming involved in the Clark County Green Schools program.
“These school waste audits help students recognize the enormity of solid waste production, disposal, and issues, the impacts of waste produced at their school and community and feel empowered to make choices which reduce these impacts,” said Ives. School waste production data collected during the audit will be used to create a plan for improving waste reduction and disposal at the school.
“A part of the process is to understand how many dumpsters we fill on a regular basis and then work to have less going into the land fill and more in recycle but also to create less waste overall,” said Lancaster.
As a part of the Green Schools program the students will take a field trip to a Waste Connections transfer station. Waste Connections Clark County pays all program costs for school participation.
“I want kids to look up, look out and see what’s there and take care of it,” Lancaster explained. “I want to help teach them how to be responsible and aware of their world.”
Gause Green Team members meet before school on the first Tuesday of each month. “We also discuss ways to reduce, reuse and recycle,” said Lancaster.
Other initiatives include encouraging use of school water bottle fill stations with a reusable bottle rather than drinking from a carton or plastic water bottle; Crayola ColorCycle program to collect and repurpose used Crayola markers; and the Trex Challenge, to collect plastic grocery bags, bread bags, dry cleaning bags, newspaper sleeves, ziplock & other re-sealable bags, produce bags and more.
“Everyone who participates in the Trex Challenge gets a plaque, but the school who collects the most bags in a region will earn a Trex plastic bench for their school,” Lancaster said.
One of three Clark County schools Green Team advisers that is a custodian, Lancaster feels that it is a good fit. “The club is a great way for me to connect with the kids at Gause in a different way,” she said. “They are all my kids.”Green
Lancaster’s goal for the program is to inspire students to help them understand their impact on the environment and know how they can make this a better place.
“There’s just one world!” she said.