Garbage Audit

Graduation Traditions - The Senior Class Gift

The seniors have commenced on the final leg of their journey towards graduation.  Last week they gathered on the SS Rotterdam for their senior group picture.  When there are only 12 graduates you can do things like that.  Just before departing, in their caps and gowns, for the photo shoot on the ship, two representatives appeared in our staff meeting to announce the senior class gift, a long-held tradition at our school.  The seniors, each year, select a gift to give to the school by which they will be remembered. Past gifts have included a large clock engraved with “For all the Good Times” in the entryway of the school and a tree planted in the playground.

On this day, two young representatives stand before us, flushed with excitement and glowing with pride.  With animated gesticulations they describe how they participated in the school’s garbage audit this year and that the audit experience prompted their senior gift.  They proceed to describe the purpose and results of the audit.

An accounting of the plastic cups accumulated in just two days in the teacher’s lounge yields exclamations of shock and disbelief.  For the staff of 70 (some of whom are part-time), it is a bit embarrassing to consider that the paper cups from the teachers’ lounge alone represented 1.5% of the entire waste of the school (including cafeteria, classroom, and science waste). 

Mug wall designed by Christian Ward for the ready made 100 contest.  Link to the site.

The seniors then announce that their senior gift would be to build a mug wall in the teachers' lounge, eliminating the use of plastic cups.  They are planning a “mug drive” to load the wall with donated mugs (rather than increase carbon footprint by purchasing new mugs).  Their gift, as it turns out, additionally includes an act of service.  Nods of approval and smiles of encouragement are seen sweeping across our group of teachers.  Clearly, this is a good idea. 

With confidence and purpose our vibrant seniors depart through the library doors; their shiny, blue, freshly pressed graduation gowns flowing behind. 

Moments like these make the teachers proud and leave evidence of how ready these young people are to go out and conquer the world.

What special senior gifts or traditions are common in your area, at your school or at the school your children attend?

Garbage Audit: The contents of a teacher's bag

The bag is set on the floor with the others, awaiting its sorting.  A student grabs the bag and brings it closer to the sorting bins: plastic, metal, paper, and cardboard.  The bag is opened and the sides are rolled down for easier access to the contents.  The aroma of coffee and tobacco emanate from the bag. “What is all this?” queries Max as he plunges his gloved hands into the bag, “it is really disgusting.”  His British accent really emphasizes the word “disgusting” drawing my attention.

He begins filtering through a mound of coffee grounds that seem to coat every item in the bag.  “Are coffee grounds biodegradable or miscellaneous waste?”   Max begins scooping the grounds into the appropriate bin.  “Geez, someone likes coffee.  Is it possible to drink this much coffee in a day?”  Max continues to uncover cigarettes, multiple cans of energy drinks, nicotine gum packs. 

“Isn’t this a contradiction?”  He holds up his evidence.

The students analyze the finding of cigarettes juxtaposed to the ‘quit smoking gum’.

“Well, maybe he’s trying to quit but just hasn’t managed it yet”

“Yeah maybe all the energy drinks are a substitute as well”

“Yeah, and all the coffee too”

The bag is a manifestation of a struggle with a simple and common addiction.  I try to imagine a teacher finding time to smoke all those cigarettes (since it’s not allowed in the building), make and drink all that coffee, and juggle the energy drinks and gum while teaching.  It can’t be easy.

Then, my bag is up for sorting.  Paper towels soaked in all sort of things.  A dead fish from my tank.  Plant particles.  Fresh liver.  The biology students attempt to explain the contents. However, the sorters remain firm in their judgment.   “Um Dr. Markham, no offense, but the garbage from your room is the most disgusting of all”.  Of course I’m thinking, “Just wait until you get to the cafeteria bags”.

Well, I was wrong.  It turns out the biology classroom garbage bag was the worst.  So, I ask myself, “Are the contents of a teacher’s garbage revealing?  Absolutely. However, I don’t want to be psychoanalyzed by mine.  

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.