The Zero Waste Eco-Heroes of PS 31

By: Alison Schuettinger, Greenpoint Eco-Schools, Sustainability Coach @ PS 31

Thanks to the community and especially the team at Greenpoint Eco-Schools, there have been great strides in reducing waste.

PS 31 and all of the Greenpoint Eco-Schools have made large reductions in landfill waste at each school as part of the Department of Education’s Zero Waste pilot program.  Zero Waste is achieved when all recyclable and compostable waste is diverted from a landfill for recycling, and the four Greenpoint Eco-Schools averaged an 80% landfill waste diversion rate during the last school year! Achieving results like this requires the coordinated effort of many Eco-Heroes in the school. PS 31 Eco-Heroes include student Waste Warriors, as well as School Food and Cleaning staff.

Waste Warriors are students who stand behind the bins at the cafeteria’s waste disposal station to assist students as they sort landfill and recycle waste during breakfast and lunch. PS 31’s student leaders are enthusiastic, dedicated and pay attention to every detail!  Even after their long summer break, Waste Warriors remembered all the specifics to properly sort recyclables:  food scraps go in the brown organics bin, soft plastic goes in the landfill bin, milk cartons go in the metal/plastic/carton bin.

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Christian, a Waste Warrior and Green Team member remarks, “This job is really cool but also kind of gross”.  He laughs as ketchup barely misses his sleeve, “But it’s okay because you’re helping to save the world.”

A new Waste Warrior who was so enthusiastic about helping his fellow students pour out their leftover milk before the cartons get recycled, exclaimed, “I’m helping kids help me!”

In addition to student leadership, PS 31’s Cleaners and School Food staff make Zero Waste possible. School Food provides rubber gloves for Waste Warriors and the Cleaners switch the bags in the bins when they get full. After a fun training and refresher about recycling, School Food has been efficiently separating and recycling in the kitchen and the Cleaners make sure it’s all properly organized on the curb for DSNY collection—a true team of Eco-Heroes.

Other trainings for the school community have included Student Assemblies for the upper grades, classroom visits for all Pre-K and K students, and a Zero Waste workshop for parents. We now have a fall semester calendar for all selected Waste Warriors and system for selecting Star Feature Waste Warriors; students who have exemplified school and environmental leadership behavior.

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Our goal this year is to have Waste Warriors educate and empower everyone at the school to properly separate and recycle waste. Lamyaa, an experienced Waste Warriors knows that teaching others these skills will benefit the school and the environment, “This year I learned to let other people do it by themselves and I’m there to help.”  Huge thanks to the Eco-Heroes of PS 31 for leading the school to a Zero Waste reality!

For more information on this initiative or to stay updated on projects from Greenpoint Eco-Schools, visit their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/GreenpointEcoSchools/.

By Romey Louangvilay