Going Green

Getting dirty, service learning, and more inspiration

Garbage Audit #2 

Once again the space is scheduled and the supplies are stacked. Pupils have planned and prepared for this proceeding.

We meet at 15:15 in my room and the plan is put into motion. The students split up into groups collecting trash, spreading tarps, and organizing bins.

Finally it is time to don the gloves, open the bags and start sorting! The goal is to compare the results to last year’s audit and see if any improvements can be observed based on the implementation of the team’s proposals. Additionally, the students are focusing this year on the organic waste to determine how much of it is compostable

The most unusual discoveries? How about an entire briefcase with two phones in it? The bag of perfectly usable clothes? The intact mugs? The functioning umbrella?

The students are having fun. The sorted contents are analyzed. Data is recorded. Ideas for the proposals are formulating. They are disgusted, especially as they tackle the cafeteria waste, but they are still laughing. It’s 18:20 and we are nearly done.  We clean up and store a huge container to be wheeled off to the recycling station in the morning.

The next day data analysis begins. The data from last year is retrieved and comparisons begin to form. Have we made a change? An initial look suggests that there has been change! However, we’re still waiting for the final results.

One thing is for sure: there is satisfaction for the involved students. They feel ownership in the environmental status of their school. They are absolutely intrigued with the outcomes of the audit. They are eager to determine how to further reduce waste and energy usage at the school. The act of physically being involved makes the concept of Going Green so much more real. It spawns ideas. It inspires.

Oh yes, and it’s messy! Allow the students (and yourself) to get dirty. It will provide new inspiration and further ideas for service learning!

Graceless Green

The intermingling aromas of French fries and spring rolls from the cafeteria diffuse throughout my room. Stacked boxes await attention. Bites of lunch are snatched in between refolding boxes, sealing edges, digging through recycled paper bins for colored paper, and labeling the assembled bins.  Joyous chatter permeates the classroom. And soon a stack of boxes labeled for recycling plastic, paper, and markers has reached the ceiling of my classroom.

With glee the students began an orderly distribution of their bins throughout the school.  With five minutes to spare, exuberant students retrieve their backpacks and shuffle off to class expressing satisfaction with their accomplishment.

At first my heart is filled with skepticism for our inelegant approach. Would we create a shabby image for our school with cardboard boxes scattered throughout?  However, as I amble through the hallways noting their work I realize that their approach is, indeed, truly in the spirit of “Going Green”. The bins are 100% recycled! And they don’t look so bad. Suddenly my heart is brimming with pride for my little Going Green Group and their enthusiastic efforts for change.

We have all disbursed for the holidays but as New Year’s resolutions abound, perhaps you’ll consider taking a step towards a “greener” New Year?!? 

P.S. I had pictures but I've lost them! I'll take some more and add them later, once we've returned to school...

Becoming an Eco-School

Two men in suits stand engrossed in conversation.  They immediately turn to me and, switching from Dutch to English, offer welcoming handshakes as I cross the threshold of the room. The meeting is scheduled to begin in fifteen minutes and the table is prepared with coffee and tea and seats for ten people. My greeters are the host of this event and the country-head of Eco-Schools.

The others trickle in and we gather cozily around the table that fills the small room. Seven people represent three schools that are already accredited with Eco-Schools, and are proud displayers of the Eco-Schools Green Flag. Another woman, like me, is from a school that is in the initial phase of accreditation. She and I are here to gain as much information as possible about the accreditation process as well as ideas for a successful Green Program at our schools.

My jaw nearly drops to the table when a parent representative describes their six eco-groups in the secondary school, totalling 70 students. The elementary school boasts another 130 participants in grades 2-5. Others around the table are impressed and the representatives kindly remind us that they’ve been doing this for six years. Furthermore, their student numbers are about five times ours. They share amazing ideas and projects that are taking place at their school.

What is the secret? “Green is fun…” the parent explains, “It’s cool. It’s popular.”

It was a bit daunting to see the work the other schools had completed, but it was also inspiring. As they questioned me about the work our small green team has completed, they were very complimentary, and even impressed, reminding me that it isn’t about he numbers, it’s about the mindset and the process.

Our little group started out with four student-members and two teachers last year. Now we claim twelve active student-participants, a strong parent contributor, and five teacher supporters. Our projects include but are not limited to

  • A garbage audit that resulted in several proposals to reduce waste at the school which we are in the process of implementing. Mug racks for the teacher’s lounge have been completed and will be installed soon in order to reduce plastic cup waste at the school. Money has been raised to purchase water bottles for all students and eliminate plastic bottles and disposable drink containers. Our goal this year is to add plastic recycling, in addition to the paper recycling, bins in all the rooms at the school.
  • A goal to separate all the cafeteria waste so that the food can be hauled off separately for recycling in addition to all paper and plastic. This should drastically reduces our trash waste.
  • Lights Off Fridays and Warm Sweater Days increase awareness and also lower the school’s energy usage.

The students are ambitious and have a huge list of things they’d like to accomplish. From the eco-schools meeting I obtained a host of additional ideas for our group to consider. This Friday we will meet to decide exactly what we want to focus on for our short and long range goals this year and into the future.

Of a few things I am certain. One is that our initiative is important. We have an obligation to our Earth and future generations to protect the world we live in. There are people associated with our school (parents and/or other community members) that will be interested in joining our group and providing more ideas and manpower to help us progress forward, we just need to find them.

Our school will benefit from becoming an environmentally sustainable school. The benefits are likely to extend into areas of community image, appeal to knew families, energy savings, school unity, and general feeling at the school.

Being surrounded by teachers who share a passion for sustainability bolstered me up and strengthened me in the pursuit of building the Green Program at our school. Their programs have gained momentum and support over time, also having begun with the simple garbage audit a few years ago, like we did last year. I think our program is on the same path of growth.

We will collaborate together as regional eco-schools to have our students meet each other and join forces in sustainable efforts. I look forward to this association and to the support it will provide our program. After all, there is strength in numbers, right?

If you’re interested in more sustainable life, go for it! If you’re interested in helping your school or organization become more sustainable, go for it!  It’s worth it, of that I am certain.

Fundraising for a Good Cause: Going Green

Reducing plastic waste by providing water bottles for all students.

“Oh my goodness! I made the best cookies I’ve ever made last night!” A 17-year-old teenage boy jumps up and down and squeals with excitement continuing, “Dr. Markham you’ll be so impressed”. My laughter is suppressed but a huge smile emerges. His utter delight is absolutely precious.

“My Mom and I made the best carrot cake ever!” claims another as she proudly places down her cake and cupcakes on the table.

The baked goods pour in and students, with great pride and excitement, place their items on the table.  Teachers have also generously contributed and they gingerly position their goods. They are more critical of their own donations, always “confessing” how they might have “cheated” on the recipe.  They are reminded that the only requirement was “organic” and they walk away smiling as they have, indeed, met that requirement.

We sell from 8:00 – 8:20 and then again during the break from 9:50 -10:00.  We are surprised that our little effort has already generated nearly 100 Euros.  Elementary and Secondary lunch brings us close to 200 Euros and then the after school time slot generated some more, to be counted for a final tally on Monday.  For our small school with a student body of under 200 students (Pre-K through 12th), we were thrilled with these results.

Along with our raffle in the spring, we’ve very likely raised the needed funds to provide a water bottle to all 1st – 12th graders, eliminating the need to purchase water bottles and significantly reducing plastic waste at the school.

Our entire Green Group is elated with this progress thus the momentum for our “Going Green” initiative is building. A good strong group of students who are truly passionate about being green and who are eager to be involved in every way invigorates me.

So, what was needed for our successful organic bake sale?

  • A good cause – I think it helps that is was for a local, school cause.
  • Eager student and teacher bakers (all of our Green Team participated and I sent out an email inviting all staff to participate)
  • Sharing of ideas where to purchase the organic ingredients (thankfully, in the Netherlands that is easy)
  • Approval from the admin and our cafeteria manager
  • Request for tables from our Facilities Department
  • A cash box with some change
  • Student volunteers and one teacher per selling session
  • A camera to document
  • Email notifications to staff and parents
  • A blurb in our morning announcements all week
  • Posters (made from paper from the recycling bins, of course!) advertising the bake sale and it’s cause
  • A price list

Why am I always surprised by the amount of work these events puts on us, the involved teachers? Of course, this feat was pulled off with the help of four teachers other than myself (not including teacher bakers). It felt like my entire day was spent at that bake sale with breaks to go teach my students. Not to mention the preparation meetings with students, emails, reminders, and general foot-work.

It’s worth it though. It’s marvellous to foster a passion in students and to see them awaken in their success. Thus, don’t be discouraged when faced with the workload of “a good cause” because you’re cultivating caring, arousing awareness, and stimulating independence. And truly, it IS worth it.

Student Ambitions for Going Green

I’ve mentioned before that I’m part of a Going Green initiative at our school.  We have a student group that meets Tuesdays during lunch.  A parent who’s an expert in the field is graciously consulting us.  The school itself is interested in becoming environmentally sustainable.  The community is open to our efforts.   So, even though our forces are small, the experience is productive and positive.

We completed the garbage audit (four posts in January were dedicated to this) and are putting together a proposal to reduce waste.  The students have launched several “reduce energy” campaigns that included a day of turning the heat down to the lowest setting all day and “lights off Fridays”.  Using our live portal with the electric/gas company the students collect the data from these different events and create charts and graphs illustrating the effect of our reducing energy efforts.  A goal is to reduce energy consumption by 5% this year.  The students are also preparing themselves to present to the greater school and neighborhood community in order to launch a fundraising drive.  This drive will initially fund the installation of solar panels for which the school has already received a subsidy commitment from the city.  The long-term vision is to have the school able to put energy back on the grid and to ultimately be a fueling station for electric cars.  It’s ambitious. 

The students are not overwhelmed with their task and dutifully show up each Tuesday at lunch working slowly and steadily towards their goals.  Yesterday the student group met during lunch knowing that they would be meeting during today’s lunch with our consultant as well.  However, today the consultant had work obligations and requested that we postpone until Friday.  I was mentally already filling the time with other things (lab preparations, printing, meeting with the EAL advisor, etc.).  The students arrived in my classroom and I told them we’d be postponing until Friday.  Their response?  “Let’s watch a TedTalk on global warming”.  OK!  Fortunately I have a few tagged and saved in my bookmarks bar. 

It is an honor to work with students who are truly interested in an issue and who sincerely desire change, even if it costs me three lunch periods out of the week!

National Warm Sweater Day - Going Green!

I was surprised by the cheers and raised fists at my announcement.  Why are students excited about the school being cold on Friday and about being requested to “dress warmly”?  That was yesterday.

Today was National “Greenchoice Warm Sweater Day” in the Netherlands.  In honor of this day we lowered/turned off the heat in the secondary school.   By 7:30 a.m. I had been in each classroom on the 3rd floor and turned all the heaters to “off” or “1” (the lowest possible setting).  By 8:00 I could already feel a slight chill in the air.  Students came properly prepared with extra clothing layers, sweaters and hoodies and didn’t complain all day.  Rather, I heard the phrase, “It’s not bad at all” or “If this is what ‘Going Green’ feels like then bring it on”

Our Going Green Group wants to reduce the carbon footprint of the school by 5% this year.  Our first event was the garbage audit (students are still working out a proposal based on those results).  Today’s event will enable us to compare the gas usage to that of a day when the heaters were running full blast.  We will be able to measure the difference in energy consumed when making a greener choice.  Our gas and electricity usage runs through a meter that is interfaced with a computer program.  Through this “portal” we can view our gas and electricity usage on monthly, daily, and even hourly basis.  I’m quite excited to see the graph from today as it compares to other days (there is a 24 hour lag time).

According to the Greenchoice Warm Sweater Day web site, for every degree the temperature is lowered, energy usage decreases by 7%.  It seems like turning down our heaters during cold months will be an obvious way to reduce our carbon footprint, save energy, and lower costs at the school.  It is amazing how "easy" it was to endure.  Staff and students were happy and content all day.  My room was probably the coldest (as it always is) since I'm at the end of a hallway and two of my walls are a row of windows.  Thank you icelandic woollen sweater!

Another rather unexpected bonus to our Going Green initiative is the unity and sense of purpose it seems to be creating among students and staff.  Go Green!

National Green Choice Warm Sweater Day

 This coming Friday, February 7, 2014 is National Green Choice Warm Sweater Day (“Greenchoice Warme Truiendag”).  You can check out the website (it's in Dutch).

In honor of the Kyoto Protocol this national event is scheduled each year in the Netherlands.  The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty binding all industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Let’s join the Netherlands this Friday by wearing an extra layer of clothing,  turning down our heaters and thereby reducing our energy usage by 7% for every degree Celsius we lower the heat.


Garbage: Personal Reflections

Well, this is the fourth, and probably not final, post on garbage.  Seeing as it is driving the Group IV project and the audit was the inaugurating event to our Going Green initiative, it is on my mind.

So, this morning I assembled a meal for my family and threw it in the crock-pot before we left for the day.  As I began my preparations and opened up the garbage bin, my mind flashed back to the gloved hands of my students sifting through the garbage at our school.  I remembered them processing every minuscule piece of trash and sorting it to it’s proper bin. I remembered how seemingly inconsequential scraps added up to significant weight and volume of waste.

As chopping vegetables commenced, I found myself removing the merest of “inedible parts”, attempting to minimize what I tossed into the rubbish bin.  I finished off a carton of eggs and noticed the carton is 100% paper recyclable.  I was horrified that I hadn’t noticed this before.  Have I ever thrown egg cartons and (*gasp*) hence recyclable paper into Rotterdam’s landfill?  However, I felt mighty good marching that out to the paper bin. Then, I used the last bouillon from the vegetable bouillon box.  First of all, is the 6 x 7.5 cm wrapper (yes, I did measure it) around the bouillon cube paper, plastic or metal? What about the little box that holds the eight tablets of bouillon? I see the recycling symbol on the box but I can’t read it as both box and labels are TINY.  My 12-year old can read that it is, indeed, paper.  Satisfied that I have fully minimized my waste, I clean up the kitchen and turn on the crock-pot.

Anyone who knows me knows already that I’m pretty conscientious about Being Green.  Probably my number one response when asked why we don’t drive to school is “Well, it’s not very eco-friendly”.  However, I feel like there is still a lot of room for improvement.  Understanding settles in that the greatest challenge for our Going Green committee is to help our school community understand satisfactorily about the reason and value in Going Green enough to make a change to actually be greener in mindset and practice.

Garbage Audit: Crunching Data

Twelve IB students gather in the Biology classroom as part of their Group IV project .  Anticipation hangs in the air as they look at the data from the previous evening’s garbage audit.  At first they are unsure how to proceed but then they power up their computers and open up Excel.  Keyboards are clicking, expressions are concentrated.  I circle around and begin to see pie and bar graphs appearing all over the room on the computer screens

“Can you believe we throw away over 1 kg of paper and plastic cups every day?” exclaims one student.  “Whoa, look at this, 35% of our garbage is recyclables!”, cries out another.  “That’s a lot of food waste”  “I think we can reduce our weight by at least 1/3 this year”.  And so it went.  For two hours the students crunched numbers, manipulated Excel data, created graphs, and analyzed their results. 

The final conclusions haven’t been reached but everyone is quite excited about what they’ve uncovered.  Over the next few weeks the students will share their results to the Going Green group at the school for that committee to submit a recommendation on how to reduce waste at the school.  The IB students will also formulate a proposal for next year’s Group IV project in the area of Going Green.

I’m quite happy with this initial event that the Going Green group has completed.  It will definitely generate awareness and hopefully be an impetus for change at the school.

Garbage Audit: Going Green

This afternoon we completed a garbage audit at the school.  It went a lot smoother than I expected.  The 15 10th -12th grade students were upbeat.  Our organization was efficient.  The garbage was bearable.  For example, when we opened the first food bag from the cafeteria, I was anticipating an overpowering stench to envelope us, however, it wasn't so.

We had sorters, weighers, recorders, and cameramen, working from 15:15 to 18:30 going through two days of garbage collected at the school.  Plastics, biodegradables, paper, and cardboard were sorted into big bins and then weighed.  Metals, glass, and miscellaneous were also sorted on the side and weighed at the end.  We also counted all the paper and plastic cups.  There were about 5 forks in there.  i wonder if the owner of the food service realizes he's losing several forks every couple of days.  Just last week he sent an email out to all staff requesting that we return his silverware as the numbers are depleting.

Entire sandwiches, unopened yogurts and drinks were in abundance.  There seemed to be a ridiculous amount of plastics, even for Europe.  What is with all the prepackaged food?  Why not wrap the sandwiches on plates in plastic? Why not serve the elementary children their milk and juice in small cups?  We are a small school.  For the sake of the Earth, we could improve our practices.

Why did we do all this?  The school is launching a "Going Green" initiative this year and our goal is to reduce our carbon footprint by 5%.  We're performing the audit with the plan to submit a proposal on how the school can minimize waste.  I somehow ended up leading the initiatve and it's a bit overwhelming at times but I also perceive that it will be incredibly satisfying when we meet our goals.  I hope I'm at the school long enough to experience the long term goals of the project: a truly Green School that actually puts energy back on the grid.