On Nov. 28, 35 educators, school administrators, district staff, parents, and county recycling agency representatives gathered at the beautiful Onion Pub & Brewery in Lake Barrington for a meeting that sparked conversations and connections around zero waste initiatives in Fox Valley area schools and beyond. The event began with a presentation by Susan Casey, Zero Waste Schools Program Manager with Seven Generations Ahead (SGA). Casey provided an overview of zero waste school strategies including source reduction, recycling, composting, and food recovery. She focused on waste audits, lunchroom sorting stations, and the importance of cooperative and collaborative engagement among all involved (students, parents/PTOs, teachers, administrators, building facilities, and haulers), highlighting SGA’s work in Chicago Public Schools and Oak Park and River Forest schools. We also had the opportunity to hear from representatives of local county agencies, including Mary Allen, Recycling and Education Director of the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County; Merleanne Rampale, Public Information Officer and Education Director of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County; Bill Donato, Director of McHenry County Schools Environmental Education Programs; and Joan O’Keefe, Environmental Educator for Will County. Collectively, all four organizations cover a large portion of northern Illinois, offering great resources for waste reduction and environmental education. Some even offer grants for schools. The night continued with a short video and presentation from Renee Blue and Jennifer Kainz of Mindful Waste. Their organization works with schools to implement waste sorting and to start food recovery programs in which excess items from school meals are donated to local food pantries. They were followed by Steve Schweinsberg, owner of Prairieland Disposal & Recycling Services, which provides compost, recycling, and trash hauling services in Lake County and Mchenry County. Prairieland also does their own waste audits and sorting. As such, Schweinsburg stressed that they cannot accept heavily contaminated loads and the need to go back to basics for recycling to ensure that every load that gets collected gets recycled. Prairieland works with Midwest Organix, a compost processing facility which accepts all types of food waste. Rounding off the night were four representatives from Barrington School District 220: Joel Gallegos, Assistant Director of Buildings and Grounds; James Bartlett, 7th Grade Teacher at Prairie Middle School; Anita Knotekova, parent and PTO Environmental Awareness member at North Barrington Elementary School; and Austin Johnson, Principal at North Barrington Elementary School. All four speakers further emphasized the value of well-rounded participation in school waste reduction programs. Together, they shared their experiences of getting students involved and how that involvement drives each program to have a wider impact. Gallegos shared the district’s goals of getting every school their own high grade, stainless steel sorting station by the end of the school year. This goal is possible thanks to the district understanding the importance of consistent signage and sorting stations for effective landfill waste diversion. Knotekova spoke about the way in which students who learn about recycling and composting at school go home and teach their families, increasing the chances of families adopting their own sustainable waste management practices and further expanding the movement. Bartlett shared this quote from his principal, “I want to make composting and recycling like washing your hands after using the bathroom. Everyone gives you a weird look for not doing it.” Empowering children through education on sustainable waste management practices brings us closer to making composting and recycling second nature; with their efforts, it will be the new normal.