Emily Carr Elementary Rethinks Waste

Green, Schools & Students

Student support worker, Cadine Boechler, at Emily Carr Elementary noticed something funny about the new waste system at school – almost all the items on the “landfill only” sign could actually be recycled with a little extra effort. Working with a local recycling company, she decided to try out a Zero Waste Challenge with her Division 11 grade 1 class.

Six months ago Cadine separated the waste bins in her classroom into six streams – the three usual ones (landfill, organics, and mixed recycling), and three new ones:

  • Soft plastic, which includes any plastic you can crumple in your hand, such as cling film, ziplock bags, cheese string wrappers, and fruit cup tops;
  • Hard plastic, which includes any rigid plastic without the recycling symbol, such as drinking straws, felt pens, plastic cutlery, and empty glue sticks; and
  • Foil composite, which includes wrappers that look like metal on one side and plastic on the other, such as chip bags, granola bar wrappers, and yogurt tops. 

Real waste items on the posters show what should go where

Cadine made new posters adorned with real waste items to show what should go where, and the grade ones had no trouble catching on. The only waste in their landfill bin now is Band-Aids, tissues, and tape. Three of the grade ones joined Cadine in spreading the word to the rest of the school – they visited each classroom to teach a workshop on Zero Waste and to prepare everyone for a schoolwide Zero Waste Challenge. These three students bravely stood in front of their peers, older grades, and even school district staff to deliver their informative workshop. On April 19, in celebration of the school’s Environmental and Aboriginal week, 20 bins throughout the school were altered to accommodate the new six-stream system.

The challenge has been a huge success – since it began, the landfill bins have been all but empty! At last count, after just 32 school days, the Emily Carr Elementary community has recycled 44 pounds of soft plastic, 38 pounds of foil composite, 22 pounds of hard plastic, and 2 pounds of Styrofoam – that is 106 pounds of recycling that would have gone to the landfill in our ordinary system! Well done Emily Carr Elementary!

If you’d like to try a similar challenge at your school, or if you’d like to do a Zero Waste Challenge at home over the summer, contact us at sustainability@vsb.bc.ca to find out how.