NOTRASHCITYStudents at Oak Park’s Mann Elementary School took some creative license with the waste items they generate throughout the year. Using empty snack bags, plastic bottles, Styrofoam and plastic cups, and a Panera catering box, they built a representational town and called it “No Trash City.”

Led by parent Sarah Thompson, four Zero Waste Ambassadors collected from garbage bins around the building trash that was going to be thrown away and repurposed it into a message—and art installation—about turning waste into resources. The three-dimensional sculpture went on display in the school lobby with the message: "Over 10,000 plastic food packaging items wasted every school year at Mann."

“The next task will be to solve this problem,” says Sarah, who earlier in the year had been asked by Mann’s PTO Green Team to offer an eco class for students to participate in after school. Sarah turned to SGA’s “Don't Throw Me Away: A Zero Waste Curriculum” to teach student what it means to be good stewards of the environment. “SGA’s curriculum was really helpful, and I would could base my sessions on it,” she said.

SGA’s Zero Waste curriculum helps students learn about the current waste system, its implications and how it can improve. Its essential message is “there is no garbage. Every byproduct from a natural cycle is used to fuel another. Nothing is wasted; there is zero waste.”

A waste audit taken at the school was “a good wake up,” Sarah said. “We found a lot of surprising things, like unused juice boxes.” Once kids learn more about what is a resource and how waste can be transformed into resources through practices such as recycling and composting, they understand the importance of what zero waste really means, she said. “Kids want to help the environment.”
—Cassandra West

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