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Spring Lake students reduce waste

Krystle Wagner • Jan 7, 2016 at 3:00 PM

SPRING LAKE — Holmes Elementary School students finishing their lunch the other day examined their trays before placing recyclables and scrap foods into the respective bins.

Earlier this school year, the Zero Waste in the Landfill (ZWIL) initiative was slowly rolled out at the Spring Lake school. For the past few months, third- and fourth-graders have taken a closer look at what they place in the trash after lunch.

In collaboration with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) and a grant through the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council, students are learning about recycling and composting. The goal is to reduce landfill waste at Holmes by 40 percent. The ZWIL team also hopes to have a “no-trash lunch day” closer to Earth Day, which is April 22.

Since October, Holmes students have saved about 1,000 pounds of trash from entering the landfill, said Mary Amy Bajt, a ZWIL volunteer.

In the past, the school did some recycling, but ZWIL is different and powerful in its approach, said Holmes Principal Sandra Smits.

ZWIL is led by Bajt, Kelly Clark and Jessica VanderArk. VanderArk is also the coordinator for WMEAC’s Teach for the Watershed Project.

Before the start of the school year, the ZWIL team and a group of Holmes students created a video, “Too much trash!”, which is aimed at capturing students’ attention and explains the importance of “green” efforts.

Bajt said they ensure each grade has a good understanding before moving on to the next class. In the coming weeks, second-graders will be introduced to the program. 

Students can choose whether or not they want to be a Waste Warrior, which is a person who volunteers to help classmates with recycling and composting.

Having the chance to make a difference on a broader perspective is one of the reasons Addi Tober, 9, said she became a Waste Warrior. “To help the world stop landfills from getting bigger,” she explained.

Although it’s currently a pilot program at Holmes, the ZWIL team hopes to expand the initiative out to other schools in West Michigan in the future. Local businesses are also getting on board and showing their support for the initiative.

With students taking ownership and encouraging their peers, VanderArk said the key to sustaining the program is the students’ buy-in.

“It’s empowering when (students) start owning it,” Bajt said.

Smits hopes students learn they can make a difference and it takes everyone together to make a change.

“That they can also recycle and compost outside of school and can teach others,” she said. “Just one little step is a big step.”

To help students’ efforts in the cafeteria, WMEAC offers recommendations for parents to take at home. When packing a child’s lunch, the environmental organization suggests including a reusable lunchbox, silverware to wash, a cloth napkin, reusable bottles for drinks and recyclable containers if they can’t be reused.

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