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Jarvis turns 300 lbs. of cafeteria trash into just 11 lbs.

Photo of students disposing lunch waste

Mrs. Casler’s classes helped guide students as they disposed of their waster after lunch.

That’s right! In celebration of Earth Day on Monday, May 5, students in Karen Casler’s seventh grade classes helped Jarvis students reduce the day’s cafeteria trash by 94 percent.  It was all part of the Jarvis Zero Waste Lunch Day.

Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority’s School Recycling Coordinator Jamie Tuttle helped organize the event, providing literature and ideas to get students excited. During each lunch period, she explained how each person can play a part taking care of the environment. As students finished eating, she and Mrs. Casler’s class helped students sort heir lunch waste into three trash cans—recyclables, compostables and waste. At the end of the day, she weighed the trash—waste that must be disposed of in a landfill—the total was just 11 pounds, a 94 percent less than normal.

“I am often asked, ‘Does it really matter?’ This shows that a couple of small changes can make a big difference,” she said.

On an average day, the 800 students who eat in the Jarvis cafeteria generate about 300 pounds of waste; that’s about six ounces per person. On Zero Waste Lunch Day, that figure fell to less than one quarter ounce per person!

Photo of woman speaking to students

Jamie Tuttle of the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority explained how a little effort sorting trash makes a big difference.

What makes up our “garbage?”

Trash is the smallest part of lunch waste Ms. Tuttle explained. The bulk of that is made up of chip and snack packaging, juice pouches and plastic sandwich bags. They could be eliminated by using reusable containers and recyclable aluminum foil.

Recyclables, which include milk cartons and drink containers, are the next smallest part.

Food waste is the biggest part. When properly separated from other waste, this can be composted at the Waste Authority. With proper moisture and oxygen, natural bacteria break down food waste in rich organic matter that can be used to enrich lawns and gardens.

Mrs. Casler’s students will be in the cafeteria reminding schoolmates of steps they can take to minimize what goes to the landfill—reduce, reuse and recycle.

A key effort will be to encourage students to separate food waste—a big part of cafeteria waste—from other waste. Food waste will be collected and then composted.

Make every day Zero Waste Day

Whether at school or at home, parents and students can take the same steps to reduce waste and safe valuable resources.

Remember these simple suggestions can make a big difference when everyone does their part:

  • Pack food items in reusable containers (like Tupperware) or in recyclable aluminum foil instead of plastic bags.
  • Avoid individually wrapped or prepackaged single-serve items such as chips, string cheese, cookies and drinks.
  • Pack reusable utensils instead of disposable forks and spoons.
  • Pack reusable cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
  • Prepare extra food at dinnertime and pack leftovers for lunch.
  • Only pack as much food as a student will eat.
  • Label all containers with the student’s name, improving the likelihood the containers come home.
  • Cut large items so students can save extra food for after-school snacks.
    Photo of students disposing of trash after lunch

    Student separated recyclables from trash from compostable food waste.

    Photo of group of students

    Mrs. Casler’s seventh grade students sponsored this year’s Zero Waste Lunch Day.

    Photo of woman and students at scale

    Jamie Tuttle and Mrs. Casler’s students weigh the trash.