By George Stubbs, Melrose Recycling Committee
It’s the third lunch shift at the Roosevelt Elementary School in Melrose, on a recent Friday. The din of the children’s cheerful voices only seems chaotic to the ear of someone who hasn’t been in an elementary school lunchroom in decades. Listen more closely and you hear the sounds of joy.
Towards the end of the shift, Principal Mary Beth Maranto draws the children’s attention and leads them in a call-and-response declaring the school’s values and aspirations, followed by instructions on how the students will dispose of their luncheon materials in an orderly fashion before returning to class.
This is “dispose of” in the sense of “proper treatment” rather than simply “throwing it away,” and the students obviously understand the routine well. In successive groups, the children rise from their seats and walk to one end of the lunchroom, where several containers are waiting. There are containers for juice boxes, drink pouches, and other items that currently are not recycled through the City of Melrose’s curbside collection program. In another bin, the students deposit leftover fruits and vegetables from their Styrofoam trays, and then place the trays—the ones that aren’t too messy—into boxes.
Supervising the children’s disposal exercise on this particular day is Elizabeth Thomas, a parent of a Roosevelt student and a member of the Roosevelt PTO Green Team. She helps ensure that the children direct the right materials to the right receptacles, cleans off extra debris from the trays before placing them in the boxes, and answers the children’s questions about proper disposal. What stands out, however, is the degree to which the children are helping each other. Clearly, the students at Roosevelt Elementary School “get it.”
“The designation of the Roosevelt as a certified Eco-School is a tribute the hard work of our parents, teachers, and school administrators, as well as our other partners,” said Elizabeth Thomas of the Roosevelt’s PTO Green Team. “The kids have adopted our new recycling and other environmental programs with enthusiasm, and they should be especially proud.”
The school has formed a partnership with a New Jersey-based company called TerraCycle to manage the juice boxes, drink pouches, and other hard-to-recycle items generated at the school, like pens and ink cartridges (and sometimes electronic items, like old cell phones, are collected from parents at PTO events). The school and TerraCycle are currently working on a plan to recycle the plastic rolls in scotch tape dispensers. Another goal for this year is to collect markers and crayons and return them to Crayola under a type of “take-back” program that is part of the “extended producer responsibility” movement growing around the country and the world.
The discarded vegetable and fruit material will be placed in a composter, a fairly new addition to the school’s recycling routine, one that hopefully will be generating compost for the Roosevelt School’s garden by next spring. As for the Styrofoam trays, the Green Team would like to eventually go to washable, reusable trays, but the Roosevelt School’s kitchen is not equipped to perform the necessary cleaning on that scale. So a PTO parent transports the trays to a Styrofoam recycling facility operated by ReFoamIT in Peabody. The monthly Styrofoam collection event in Peabody is hosted by a company called LIFOAM Industries.
These are the kinds of “green” measures—and there are others—that have earned the Roosevelt School a “bronze” certification under the Eco-Schools Program, an initiative aimed at promoting sustainable and environmentally sound programs and practices in schools around the world. The Roosevelt is the third school in Massachusetts to receive the bronze designation for its environmental and sustainability programs.
Administered by the National Wildlife Foundation, the Eco-Schools program (www.eco-schools.org) supports the establishment environmentally sound practices in schools, including efforts to “green” the curriculum and enhance science and academic achievement. The program was launched in 1994 by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) with support by the European Commission. It was identified by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) as a model initiative for Education for Sustainable Development in 2003. Currently, there are over 59 countries around the world participating in the program.
The work done at the Roosevelt school has been supported by grants from Mass Agriculture in the Classroom, the Melrose Education Foundation, and the U.S. Green Building Council. Grant monies in excess of $1,200 helped the school buy seed lamps; shelving for its shed; soil, compost material, and fertilizer for the garden; and classroom supplies for energy-saving projects. Partners in the Roosevelt’s projects include the Melrose Department of Public Works (DPW), Rootdown Hydroponics of Medford, and Melrose Community Gardens.
Operating under a new “Eco-code—“Have a H.E.A.R.T.: Help Eliminate All Roosevelt Trash”—the Roosevelt School and the PTO Green Team have engaged in other activities to ensure that the school is operating and serving the community in a more sustainable and environmentally sound manner. Stations in the school parking lot and drop-off areas offer the opportunity to recycle fabric through Bay State Textiles and books and CDs through Recycle That! Energy efficiency measures taken at the Roosevelt school include automatic power-down of lights and computers. The PTO Green Team is currently working with Martha Grover, the city’s energy efficiency manager, on next steps to reduce energy consumption further—and to get the kids involved in doing so.
With regular recycling figured in, the school has reduced its trash by about 1,890 pounds in 2015 and recycled 11,130 pounds of materials. In pursuit of the next levels of certification under the Eco-Schools program—Silver and then Green Flag—the Roosevelt School is undertaking further initiatives along the program’s Waste & Consumption, Energy, Water, Climate Change, and Transportation pathways.
Of course, there are challenges. For example, the school would like to recycle its milk cartons, but—again—the kitchen is not fully equipped to do the necessary rinsing, and there’s a risk of slipping. Also, the PTO Green Team has explored the idea of using compostable trays, but at this point, those trays are too expensive for the school’s budget (an issue that other schools in the city have faced).
Roosevelt is undeterred by these challenges, and the PTO Green Team is confident of future successes. The team is very interested in reaching out to other schools and institutions in Melrose to move forward together in the pursuit of more sustainable and environmentally sound practices. The Melrose Recycling Committee is eager to help facilitate these connections and support efforts by the Melrose schools to show leadership on the road to a more sustainable future. For information on what you and your school can do, please visit the Recycling Committee’s website at https://melrecyclingcommittee.wordpress.com/, or contact George Stubbs at 781-665-7773.