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Oceanside Unified Adopts ‘Zero Waste’ Goal

Photo by Promise Yee

Palmquist Elementary green team members Natally Ramirez, Delia Alcaraz, Mariana Lazaro, and Jasmine Quinones practice sorting trash into bins for CRV, co-mingle recycle, liquid, and trash items. School green teams monitor fellow students’ trash disposal at lunchtime.

The 23 schools in the Oceanside Unified School District are the first in California to adopt a zero waste program.

The commitment pushes the district to reduce waste at all school sites and the district office by 75 percent by 2020.

The schools’ program is modeled after the city of Oceanside’s "zero waste plan," and city solid waste and recycling staff train about five schools a semester on how to reduce waste.

Colleen Foster, Oceanside solid waste and recycling management analyst, said the learning curve to reduce waste is quick.

“It takes schools from a 10 to 20 percent recycling rate when we first work with them, almost immediately, within weeks, to a 70 to 75 percent recycling rate,” she said.

The waste reduction plan begins with a trash audit. Students, teachers and parent volunteers get involved in sorting and categorizing school generated trash. Then a specific plan is designed at each school to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Students form a school “green team” and monitor what fellow students do with their lunch trash. Stations are set up with bins that separate plastics, recyclable items, liquid, trash and compost waste.

Student Georgia Roripaugh is a member of the Lincoln Middle School Panthers for the planet green team. Her job is to coach fellow students on how to dispose of trash right.

She stations herself in front of the bins, and tells students, “good job” or “not there!” as they throw away each item.

“It’s amazing how much you see them learn in just a few short months, and then the next year you see them and they’re just doing it by themselves,” she said.

School lunch preparation is looked at, and things made of plastic foam and plastic are replaced with cardboard and reusable products. Custodians are given the task of taking care of recycle bins as well as trashcans.

Foster said it takes school site effort, and a district wide buy in for the program to be successful.

The zero waste program is an environmental-science lesson for students. Even more importantly, it creates a generation of students who know how to generate less trash, and results in a significantly lower trash bill for the district.


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