The answer is a lot! For the past three years students and teachers at Emily Carr have been tackling the challenge of waste at their school. Since then they have completely revamped the school's waste system, diverting 1,200 pounds of granola bar and cheese string wrappers, chip bags and dried-up markers from the landfill.
While the idea started with Cadine Boechler, a student support worker at Emily Carr, ownership of the project has been taken on by a dedicated team of students who volunteer to inspect and sort the different items from classroom, hallway and lunchroom bins. The diverted materials are then collected by Pacific Mobile Depot.
The enthusiasm of the student volunteers has spread to the rest of the school community since the project was initiated. Everyone participates and coaches each other, making sure the right items end up in the right bin. The zero waste ethic at Emily Carr has expanded to include proactive choices about avoiding and reducing waste before it ends up at school. The hot dogs on hot dog day are now wrapped in parchment paper that is easily composted, rather than a foil composite, and families are encouraged to bring their own reusable dishware to the school fun fair (with compostable alternatives available).
Students are also finding ways to encourage waste reduction a home – encouraging their strata councils to introduce additional recycling bins, saving up all their household packaging to take to the recycling center on the weekends, and influencing their peers outside of school to try zero waste practices.
With the original zero waste volunteer team heading of to high school next year, a new team of grade 5 and 6 students are currently learning how to identify what plastic or foil is recyclable, what to do with contaminate items, and how to encourage their fellow students to continue reducing their waste.
If you have questions about starting a similar system in your school, or about general sustainability in Vancouver schools, please contact the VSB's sustainability team at firstname.lastname@example.org.