Waste-sorting stations help to reduce trash that goes into landfill. Photo from District 65 Green Teams

Few if any parents have ever poked though the trash at their children’s school, but parents at several District 65 grade schools are doing just that and are finding some stinky results.

“District 65 is not like Evanston,” said Becky Brodsky, a Bessie Rhodes mom. Many assume that because Evanston has made sustainability a priority that the schools in its boundaries have as well.  Not so much, according to Ms. Brodsky and the other co-founders of the D65 Green Teams. 

Over the past year, the group has formed, pulling together volunteers working on sustainability projects in many District 65 schools, to try and tackle some of the waste and other environmental inefficiencies they are seeing District-wide.  It began when Bea Echeverria and Sylvia Wooller, parents at Washington School, started talking about how they could make a difference in their school.  Not long after, they reached out to other parents through social media and found that many had similar concerns and were working on different projects.  When conversations started to take shape, the group quickly learned they needed to pool their efforts and expertise and aim for a comprehensive plan.

While most classrooms have a recycling bin, kids are not learning how to use them, and therefore are contaminating and mixing trash, said Marie Cabiya, a mom from Willard, who is also an obstetrician.  Worse yet is the cafeteria, where Styrofoam trays and bundled plastic utensils are used.  Not all schools separate recyclables, and many do not taking advantage of composting.  Often, kids buying hot lunch are forced to take food they do not want, and that ends up being thrown away.  The Green Teams are about more than just recycling, said Dr. Cabiya, but it is a good place to start.

Aside from the environmental benefits of sustainability efforts, the Green Teams found concrete financial ones as well.  The group gathered information on what each District 65 school pays for trash pick-ups.  The results showed a wide variance in school spending with a per student cost ranging from $0.79 to $1.81 per week.  Costs for the Joseph E Hill Center and Park School were even higher.

One initiative the group is promoting to help reduce costly waste in school cafeterias is creating waste- sorting stations.  With some signage and bins, students are directed how to separate materials that can be recycled or composted, liquids and items for the landfill.  This effort is paying off, too.  At Washington Elementary, Ms. Echeverria and Ms. Wooller measured the amount of food that was diverted from the landfill by educating students on using the school’s waste sorting station.   Before kids were told how to dispose of their trash, 93% of lunch room garbage was placed in the landfill bin.  After kids received some education on the process, that number dropped to 6.35% in only 4 days.

With all this data on the benefits of going green, the Teams thought the District would jump on the sustainability band wagon. Meh.  Those at the top have said that their plate is full, that they cannot take on another initiative with all that’s happening already, said Ms. Brodsky.

“I don’t know why they won’t do this,” said Dr. Cabiya.  “Our District is behind others,” she said, describing efforts being made in Oak Park, Wilmette and even Evanston Township High School. 

But the Green Teams are determined.  Sustainability “has to be a formal policy” at the District level to be effective and maintainable, said Ms. Brodsky.  The Team members say they plan to continue holding meetings to try and persuade District leaders to get on board.   The group is creating a website to share resources on how schools can be proactive in starting green efforts of their own. 

The Teams are also planning a film festival to honor Earth Day in which residents can upload a 10-second video about reducing, reusing or recycling.  More information on the film festival can be found at10secondfilmfestival.com.  The next meeting of the Green Teams will be at 6:30 p.m. on March 14 in the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.