Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The waste sort that almost wasn't

If there's anything I've learned in the last few years, it's that garbage is controversial. Halfway through our waste sort at Breck school last month, it was halted, but the reason caught me by surprise. Let me explain.

The two waste sorts I'd done before this one had been arranged by state, county and/or city staff and most of the people doing the sorting are professionals, who well know what they're getting into.

The Breck school sort was different because it involved parents and students (in addition to knowledgeable adult volunteers). Sorting trash is extremely educational, so it was believed this would be a great hands-on lesson for students. Two classes of about 8 students came through with their teachers and were briefed on what we were doing and then given aprons and gloves. The kids thought it was really cool to be sorting trash. But in one bag, retrieved from an outdoor trash can, there was a dead mouse and a bag of dog poop. A parent raised concerns about kids catching diseases, and the waste sort screeched to a halt. So here we were with a day's worth of work, and half the organics, recycling and trash still to sort.

Here're pics from Day 1:
The spreadsheet for recording all the data

The area starts off so clean.

Lots of stuff to sort
Emily Bowers, fellow GreenCorps member comes to help out.

Students line up to get their sorted material weighed and recorded.

A hard-boiled egg found among the restroom paper towels

Sorting organics is messy.

We held a meeting with school staff, and it was decided that if we finished the sort, no students would be involved. But then weeks went by and Day 2 of the sort didn't materialize. Meanwhile the organics were sitting outside, and because it's winter in Minnesota, everything froze.
Three weeks later, we got the green light, and then we discovered that if you freeze organics for that amount of time and then thaw them, they're in pretty good shape, not smelly and still sortable.

This time there were only four of us sorting.

See? The organics are still sortable.

So everything worked out in the end, and we've got some good data for the school.

At Breck, each trash can is paired with a recycling bin and an organics bin, so students and teachers are always able to sort all their waste. Do they do a good job? The waste sort data will tell.

Breck recycles a lot of plastic bags and film. The school's head of building services really goes the extra mile.

In the cafeteria, you drop your reusable tray, dishes and utensils at the dish room, and sort your trash and organics.

And our reward? A delicious lunch in the school's cafeteria. And yes, I ate every bite.

1 comment:

  1. Parents were worried about disease from a dead mouse? or dog poop? seriously??? i bet most of them have dogs, and probably a mouse or two in their houses. good grief.