Submitted by Rene Carroll
Long tables have been added to the Washougal High School commons during lunch periods with brightly colored signage and inset buckets to sort meal waste. Students walk along the tables dropping food waste, recyclable items, and garbage into their proper containers, taking an active part in the sustainability efforts of their school.
The recycle sorting tables, provided in partnership with Waste Connections and Clark County Green Schools, was the first step in WHS achieving Bronze Level certification in the EarthGen program. EarthGen provides a framework for K-12 school communities to take long term action and earn recognition for their commitment to make a healthier, more sustainable campus.
Representatives from EarthGen, Waste Connections, Clark County Green Schools and Washougal School District gathered on June 2 to observe and celebrate the school’s progress. “We are excited to hear your ideas and we see so much energy and potential,” said EarthGen representative, Shannon Brennan. “We are inspired by the work going on and your plans. It is our pleasure to be here to celebrate and give you a big congratulations. In fact, you are one of the first schools to be presented with the EarthGen flag to be displayed.”
Sorting of meal waste is already taking place at all other Washougal Schools and is just one component of a multi-faceted sustainability program being launched at the district. In late summer 2020, while transitioning the district’s culinary program to chef-made meals, the concept to use real plates and silverware surfaced. “Not only would this present the food in a more appealing manner, but the move from disposable food serviceware would reduce costs as well as waste,” explained Margaret Rice, Director of Culinary Service and Career and Technical Education. “This whole body of work was an amazing team effort that included staff from culinary, custodial, CTE, administration and our students.”
Alexandra Yost, WSD CTE Pro Tech, was assigned to Green Schools Project Management in January of 2021 and has been a driving force behind sustainability initiatives. In this role, she also brings education of sustainability issues and the challenge for solutions to WHS classrooms.
For instance, the ASB class was given the guiding question, “When does the one-time investment in reusable serviceware that includes porcelain plates, plastic trays, and stainless steel silverware surpasses the short-term convenience of disposable serviceware such as plastic silverware & paper boats?”
“The answer may surprise many,” said Yost. “Using the assumptions of approximately 500 WHS students participating in school lunch, by the 10th meal served, the initial WSD expense for purchase of reusable serviceware is covered.”
“We are in year three of our six-year strategic plan in which Stewardship of Resources is one of our pillars,” said Dr. Mary Templeton, WSD Superintendent. “This effort is a great example of that work. The dollars saved with the use of real plates is significant in just the first year. Now we can go on to the second year and beyond with those savings. It will really add up.”
Earlier Green Schools work has also paid off with the installation of milk dispensers in elementary schools. The district has already seen savings of approximately $10,000 yearly in each of those schools with reduced garbage cost with no empty milk containers, and less milk waste.
“We as a district are rising by taking advantage of partnerships such as these,” said Templeton. “And it is exciting to see our students taking an active, not passive, role in these efforts.”
“The combination of this team and their work actually addressed two problems we had been facing at WHS,” explained Sheree Clark, WHS principal. “Students were throwing away a lot of uneaten food because they did not like the taste. And there was expense and waste generated by the one-time use, disposable service ware.”
The tastier food is paying off, according to Rice. “We went from a large 30 gallon rolling garbage can to a 5-gallon bucket for table scraps,” she said.
“If it were not for this whole team here this would not have gotten done,” said Clark. “It was cool to see the areas of expertise coming together to solve the problem. It is a true measure of leadership all the way around. And done at an amazing speed.”
Ellen Ives, from Waste Connections agreed. “Your school has done so much work in such a short time,” she said. “WHS is currently the only traditional high school in the county using sort tables and you did it during such a difficult time with COVID and distance learning. It is remarkable.”
“The students are doing great with the tables and sorting waste,” said Jerry Adams, WHS custodian. “And it will continue to improve over time.”
“It shows what happens when you have high expectations of our students while deepening the culture of family which we continue to build in our schools,” added Templeton.
Moving forward, there are plans to create an official Green Team club at WHS. Until that time, Yost has been working with WHS ASB leadership to create interest for the next school year. “Our student leaders have developed the Panther PAW Pledge,” explained Yost. “The pledge asks students and community members to be ‘PERSONALLY ACCOUNTABLE for the WASTE I create.’ This campaign, using only a few posters and social media, is designed to help raise awareness of ways to reduce waste personally and in our community, keeping Washougal clean and healthy for everyone to enjoy.”
As a part of the pledge, individuals are asked to share what they plan to do to reduce waste. “We will use that data to collect ideas to formulate more ideas for next school year’s new Green Team to be involved in,” explained Yost. Take the pledge yourself. Here is the link.
“The students involved in this work have all said that the most important form of recognition for them is the acknowledgement of the work, not a plaque or anything tangible,” said Yost. “This online pledge has lasting impact and could be a great end of year write up about the student’s efforts to make a positive impact during this wild ride of a school year.”