Principal Sergio Gonzalez at Northwood Jr. High at Elm Place is proof that school leadership is key to the success of any zero waste program. Recognizing the impact that waste reduction efforts would have on his students and the environment, the enthusiastic school leader did not want to wait until the school was in its new home next year before embarking on a path to zero waste. He understood that there was no time to waste and that the new habits formed would easily carry over into their new space. 

Northwood Jr. High, a school of 517 students in North Shore School District 112, is the fourth school in the district to implement a zero waste lunchroom after Red Oak, Braeside, and Oak Terrace Elementary Schools. The program, now in its second year in Lake County, is implemented by Seven Generations Ahead in partnership with the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County and North Shore Gas.

The school was definitely ready for a change. Prior to starting the zero waste program, the school was not recycling or composting in the lunchroom, resulting in the generation of 15 bags of garbage every day at lunchtime. With the zero waste program in place they now have a roughly 89% diversion rate (94 lbs.), generating only one bag of materials headed for the landfill.

Instead of tossing all lunch waste into the trash, students now use a sorting station with containers for sorting liquids, recycling, compost (for all food scraps, food-soiled napkins, and lunch trays), and landfill trash. Their sorting station also has a share table where students can put school lunch items (whole fruit and factory-sealed foods) they take but do not eat, which can be used later as snacks. The results of their first day waste audit are shown in the pie chart below. 

Prior to launch day, student volunteers from each grade received hands-on training so they would be ready to assist their peers on Day One. The entire student body was prepared for the zero waste launch with educational flyers posted in the hallways and lunchroom (see below) and by attending an assembly on the How and Why of reducing waste the morning of launch day. The staff also received an introduction to the program at a weekly staff meeting where they expressed enthusiasm about bringing the initiative into their classrooms. 

The Facilities Director at District 112 continues to fully support the zero waste program and hopes to bring it to all schools in the district. 

Northwood students can practice their new zero waste habits at home. Both the City of Highwood and the City of Highland Park provide curbside commercial composting and recycling services for their residents. 

Click here to learn more about Northwood Jr. High’s program launch and to see additional photos. SGA looks forward to helping Indian Trail Elementary in District 112 go zero waste when they launch their program in the beginning of April!