Sometimes, seeing is believing. Beye Elementary School in Oak Park School District 97, has been implementing a zero waste program in the lunchroom for many years. As a school in the Cross Community Climate Collaborative (C4), it was the perfect place to bring other school districts in C4 communities to see a zero waste program first-hand. Broadview Mayor Katrina Thompson, District 92 Superintendent Dr. Janiece Jackson, District 89 Principal Dr. Algeanna Griffin, as well as other representatives from District 92 attended a recent tour of Beye’s lunchroom.

The keys to Beye’s zero waste success are a solid foundation in education and collaboration among staff, students, and parents. At the beginning of the year students learn about lunchroom procedures to ensure they all understand what gets recycled, composted, or put on the share table and what goes to the landfill. They also receive periodic education throughout the year.

The parent green team helps to keep an onsite food donation pantry stocked and ensures it is clean and orderly, largely with the help of the student green team. Daily food recovery efforts through use of the lunchroom share table provide non-perishables (e.g. juice boxes, crackers, applesauce, etc.) for the pantry. Perishable food recovery items (e.g. milk, yogurt, packaged veggies and whole fruit) are either taken to a local community fridge or to local non profit partners on a twice weekly basis. Hundreds of items are collected and diverted from landfill and compost to those in need each week.

After seeing Beye’s lunchroom in action, tour attendees were motivated to start their own zero waste programs. Lindop School in District 92 launched their program on May 1, a few short weeks after visiting Beye. “They were the most prepared for launch day a school has ever been,” said Becky Brodsky, the Zero Waste Schools (ZWS) program manager at Seven Generations Ahead

Lindop School was the first school in the Village of Broadview to roll out a comprehensive zero waste program that includes composting. It’s just the beginning for Broadview going zero waste, and it was an auspicious start. Seeing the program in action at Beye Elementary helped make it feel manageable, alleviated concerns, and motivated the District 92 staff to try sorting for themselves. 

“Seeing the zero waste schools program on a recent tour of Beye Elementary in Oak Park got us inspired and excited to start our own,” said Broadview Mayor, Katrina Thompson. “The Village of Broadview is proud to help lead the way in zero waste among C4 communities. This program will not only help us reach our sustainability goals, but will also be a great learning opportunity for our students.”

Lindop School had everything set up in the lunchroom when the ZWS team arrived on launch day and, in fact, they had already been sorting for a week, which Brodsky notes was exceptional and inspiring. Assistant Director of Building and Grounds, Matt Culps, explained that they took the initiative to get started on their own and even started tracking the weight of their lunchtime food scraps. The school team was proud of the work they did to get the program up and running and were excited to surprise the Zero Waste Schools team on launch day.

Brodsky noted that the day was truly a collaborative effort. Older student volunteers, called Zero Waste Leaders, helped younger students with sorting. Many staff members were present and actively involved, as well. Ann Smith, the Lunchroom Supervisor, and Matt Culps were instrumental in making sure the lunchroom was set up with bins, bags, and signs. Lindop’s principal, Shelly Ann Opare-Saforo, also participated in the launch, and was sharing words of encouragement and appreciation with the lunchroom staff, who she calls “lunchroom teachers.” Lindop School’s philosophy is that the lunchroom is a place of learning, and Brodsky notes that this explicit shift in perspective contributed greatly to the success of the launch.

At the end of the day, Lindop School’s zero waste launch resulted in 65 pounds of compost, 52 pounds of food recovered on the share table, and 7 pounds of recycling. Their garbage volume went from ten bags to one! Leftover fruit from the share table will supplement the snacks Pre-K teacher, Yessica Mascorro, had already been preparing for her students using surplus fruit from the breakfast program. 

Just a week later, another C4 school, Roosevelt Elementary School in Maywood School District 89 had their own zero waste launch. Roosevelt principal, Dr. Algeanna Griffin, had also attended the Beye ZWS tour and was equally excited to get started at her own school. 

Much like Lindop School, Roosevelt was well-prepared on launch day and had already set up the sorting stations by the time the ZWS team arrived. Dr. Griffin was very involved on launch day, and the lunchroom staff were eager to help the students sort their items. Roosevelt plans to have student volunteers take over the role of monitoring once they’ve learned the routine. They diverted 90 pounds of food scraps for compost and went from producing twelve bags of garbage to only two.

The students were particularly interested in using the share table, so much so that 93 pounds of edible food were collected! During the last lunch period, hungry fifth graders were happy to find a full share table for their use. Roosevelt has a clear plan for the surplus share table food, which Brodsky notes is the key to a successful share table program. The food left on the share table at the end of all lunch periods is being offered to students as they leave school at the end of the day, and a lunchroom staff member will take any remaining leftover food to a local food pantry once a week. 

Following on the heels of a successful lunchroom recycling and share table launch at Thurgood Marshall Elementary in Bellwood School District 88, Lindop School and Roosevelt Elementary are helping to set the stage to expand zero waste lunchrooms across C4 communities.