Kids dig through trash for garbage audit

Greenhills students find large amount of waste from school lunches
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Students at Greenhills Elementary School in Granite Bay spent Friday afternoon digging through garbage. The third graders in Eric Lee’s class sifted through trash left over from their lunches. But they didn’t get in trouble by their teacher. Instead, he instructed them on how to sort and weigh the items. Next, they analyzed their findings as part of a garbage audit on the school’s lunch program. The kids had the permission of their parents too, who helped sort trash into appropriate cans — contaminated paper, non-contaminated paper, aluminum and tin cans, plastic bottles, other plastics, compostable foods, non-compostables, milk and juice containers, Capri Sun pouches and “other.” Lee’s students studied the needs of living things and how they fit into the watershed as part of a science challenge unit. The kids also learned about the effects of waste and pollution on landfills and aquifers — underground layers of porous rock, sand, clay or other unconsolidated material. During the audit, the kids discovered that a large amount of waste thrown away consists of non-recyclable plastics and wrappers — 4.8 pounds out of a total 26.7 pounds of waste. They also found that about half of the waste, at 13.8 pounds, is either recyclable or compostable. “The kids extrapolated that if we do nothing to reduce the current waste stream, Greenhills is on track to producing 14,418 pounds of trash just this school year,” Lee said. Students brainstormed how to reduce the amount of waste produced each day. One idea involves teaching their peers guidelines for packing a “zero-waste” lunch, which includes the use of reusable containers, cutlery and thermoses, and no foil, plastic wrap or Ziploc bags. Or the kids might start a composting program. Next, the students will compile their findings into a presentation to show Greenhills Principal Peter Towne, the Eureka Union School District board of trustees and “whoever else will listen,” Lee said. “The kids had a blast doing the audit,” he said. “They were able to take part in designing and implementing an experience that really solidified all of the learning we’ve done in class. The experience made the concepts hit home. They now have a much better grasp on just how much of an impact waste has on our environment and now they are excited about doing something to solve the problem.” Sena Christian can be reached at