Photo by John F. Russell
Mary Kelley dishes out food at the Strawberry Park Elementary School cafeteria. The school has shifted to using reusable plastic plates instead of Styrofoam plates that were thrown away. It’s just one of the many efforts the school has implemented this year as part of programs aimed at sustainability.
Steamboat Springs A series of sustainability-minded efforts at Steamboat Springs School District schools are yielding significant results.
At Strawberry Park Elementary School, for example, one simple change has resulted in the school reducing its lunch waste by about 70 percent, said parent Sarah Jones, chairwoman of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s Sustainable Schools program.
Earlier this month, the district bought white plastic plates that students now use at lunch at Strawberry Park. The plates are paid for by a successful grant application submitted by Jones. The $3,900 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Supplemental Environmental Project funding also bought plates for Soda Creek Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School.
The plates reduced the number of 30-gallon trash bags Strawberry Park uses daily from 5 to 1.5, Jones said. She said the other schools are seeing similar results.
“My passion,” said Jones, a environmental consultant, “what I’d like to do is make the schools zero waste.”
Jones, a mother of two boys at Strawberry Park, has some help.
The Strawberry Park Student Council, a group of more than 20 students, has taken on the responsibility of educating the rest of the school and leading by example. They’ve made videos and talked to their peers about recycling, upcycling (a practice of finding alternative uses for things such as chip bags and candy wrappers) and reducing waste.
“We’re looking for ways for this student body to participate in a global effort to reduce waste, save energy and be a positive influence in the community,” said school media specialist Sherry Holland, the Student Council’s adviser.
Principal Celia Dunham said the school started a recycling program four years ago, but this year’s Student Council has been especially active in expanding Strawberry Park’s sustainable efforts.
She said that education has resulted in the students forming good habits — recycling, upcycling and reducing waste without thinking about it.
“The kids, they’ve been doing it for so long, they’re just used to it,” she said. “That’s what we want to happen.”
Jones said education is the key — in fact, it’s a requirement of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment grant. Letters will be sent to all families about how to reduce waste. And the three schools will have zero-waste lunches from May 14 to 21, a week dubbed Everyday is Earth Day.
In addition to those efforts, Jones said all district schools hosted Earth Hour events Friday. She said the schools turned out the lights for as little as an hour. At Steamboat Springs High School, the lights were left off all day.
Jones also secured a $1,500 grant from Alpine Initiatives to host zero-waste events to help educate parents. She said family fun nights, holiday parties and parent breakfasts were zero-waste events, and they will be next year, too. Jones said she hopes Strawberry Park’s spring carnival fundraiser also is a zero-waste event.
Nutritional Services Director Max Huppert said Jones approached him in fall with lofty goals — including composting — to reduce lunch waste. Huppert said the district isn’t quite there, but he thought they could start by eliminating Styrofoam.
“There’s only certain things that we physically can do,” he said. “That’s something we were able to do and able to implement immediately. We’re looking at different ideas, to go to metal silverware. That’s a trickier situation. The plates are easy to manage. That’s where we’re starting.”
To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com