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home : education : schools May 29, 2016

6/11/2013 1:24:00 PM
Sisters Elementary School gets green certification

Sisters Elementary School received Oregon Green School Certification from The Environmental Center in Bend.

"My classroom decided to form a 'Green Team' and we took an 'eco-pledge' with Jackie (Wilson) from The Environmental Center," said teacher Julie Holden. "We decided that we would take on this huge task of trying to help our school become a more sustainable, greener school.

"Our first task was to attack waste at Sisters Elementary School. We first did a waste audit with Jackie. Students who could stayed after school and we inspected and sorted the waste from one day in the lunchroom. We kept data about what kinds of waste our lunchroom produced in one day. The results were shocking. So much trash, paper lunch boats, milk cartons, Ziploc bags, wrappers of all kinds and food, food, food.

"Students were stunned that we were finding apples that had never been bitten, bananas unpeeled and milk that had never been opened. We found lots of juice pouches like Capri Suns. We also found that students did not throw much away that could be recycled, so perhaps we were doing a good job already there."

After the waste audit, the class debriefed and analyzed the data. Then they decided to figure out how we could make a difference.

"We decided to join Terracycle and begin collecting waste that could be upcycled by this company from New Jersey," Holden reported. "It takes products like Ziploc bags, juice pouches, Go Go Squeeze containers, chip bags, energy bar wrappers, and Lunchables containers, and much more. So we collect those items now in the lunchroom to keep them out of the landfill and we ship them to Terracycle free of charge."

Terracycle makes new items out of the traditionally non-recyclable stuff. They make park benches, trash cans, pencil pouches, and from the materials the school sends to them.

"They also pay us one cent for each item," Holden said. "While I don't have any exact number of items we sent, we can estimate that we sent about 1,200 ziploks, 500 wrappers, 250 chip bags, 600 juice pouches and about 50 other miscellaneous items. We won't make a ton of money doing this but we have reduced the amount of garbage that goes into the landfill."

Students also wanted to tackle the food waste problem. With the help of Sisters Science Club they purchased a worm composting bin and 500 red wigglers.

"We collect food waste (fruits and veggies) from the lunch room and we feed our classroom worms," Holden said. "We began to collect more than the worms could eat so we purchased two outdoor compost bins. I also anticipated that we would fill those compost bins quickly and set up a way for families with chickens to have the food waste that we can't compost."

The last thing the students did was to address the unopened milk and unwanted whole fruit.

"We received permission to set up a 'share table' in the lunchroom," Holden said. "This would allow students to put food taken from the kitchen right on the share table as they exit if they don't want the whole apples or unopened milk."

Students also studied data on recycling in the school. The school was already supplied with blue comingle bins from High Desert Disposal, and recycling was already being collected by staff member Bill Mitchell.

"We began by inspecting classrooms, office and library recycling bins and trash cans," Holden said. "We did this one time per month and made simple suggestions like putting the trash can next to the recycling bin. Students collected data and when we analyzed the data, we concluded that school recycling has drastically


The students also created a "pick and eat" garden where families that live nearby could come over and pick and eat fresh veggies, herbs and fruits.

"On the playground, close to the classrooms is a fenced garden with raised beds," Holden said. "On weekends, I began weeding, with help from Trish and Brooke Liddell. After many hours, we found out that water is not automated there, nor is there water even flowing to the pipes and faucets in place. We can't leave a hose connected to the building for fear of vandalism, so although we have strawberries, raspberries, Yukon gold potatoes and Walla Walla onions planted and growing, we won't be able to hand-water every day over the summer. We stopped planning and planting and will try to overcome this obstacle next year."

Holden cited a core group - Greta Davis, Jordan Foley, Cassy Galan, Payden Petterson, and Brooke Liddell - that volunteered their lunch recesses almost every day of the week to help collect compost in the lunchroom, and do the recycling inspections.

"A couple kids have been integral in keeping our garden watered by hand each school day (Astyn Buring and Kaleb Briggs.) Fourth-grader Patricia Ehrlich lives in the neighborhood, and on weekends comes by to water."

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