Nettelhorst Elementary School, a Chicago Public School located in the Lakeview neighborhood, launched a zero waste program in their lunchroom at the start of 2019. The program reduces waste through liquid diversion, recycling, tray-stacking, and a share table. It has been in the works since the pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school reached out to Seven Generations Ahead for guidance earlier in the school year. 

Parent volunteers and administration took the lead in implementing the changes and educating students and staff. They printed sorting signs from SGA’s Zero Waste Schools Toolkit and worked with their facilities team to make sure that the school had the right bags for collecting lunchroom recycling. In order to prepare students for the changes to come in the lunchroom, parents led an educational session for each class in the lunchroom to teach how and why to sort. They also trained kindergarteners through eighth graders to be Zero Waste Ambassadors (ZWAs), whose role is to guide and monitor sorting at the end of each lunch period. Nettelhorst’s supportive custodian has also been vital to the program’s success.

Before launching their zero waste program, Nettelhorst used to send 12 full bags of lunchroom waste to the landfill every day. Now they produce only 4 half-full bags of landfill waste per day, resulting in an 83% reduction in trash volume and a 32% reduction by weight (click here to see the detailed waste audit results). One of the big factors in reducing the volume of landfill trash is having students stack their lunch trays, a practice that also uses fewer trash bags. Nettelhorst also implemented a share table in which students can put items that they took as part of school lunch but did not eat. Other students are free to take items left on the share table. Items eligible for the share table include whole fruit with a peel and factory sealed, packaged items; no foods from home are permitted.  

When SGA recently visited the Nettelhorst lunchroom, it was clear that the students were excited to be taking action and reducing their impact through the new zero waste program. One seventh grade ZWA stated that she enjoyed helping her classmates sort their trash because “it’s fun, I’m helping the community.” Way to go, Nettelhorst!