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Environmental science students in McHenry aim to reduce lunchroom waste

Olivia Sacchitello (left) and Anastacia Cantrell encourage classmates to donate unwanted and unopened food items to a share table instead of throwing them away. McHenry East and West students recently completed a project to help reduce waste in the lunchroom.
Olivia Sacchitello (left) and Anastacia Cantrell encourage classmates to donate unwanted and unopened food items to a share table instead of throwing them away. McHenry East and West students recently completed a project to help reduce waste in the lunchroom.

When McHenry High School buildings reopen again, AP Environmental Science teachers are hoping to see students implement some of the ideas that they have been looking at to reduce lunchroom waste, including having a “share table” in the cafeteria.

Having a share table in the lunchroom is one of several ideas to come out of an AP Environmental Science project that looks at ways to reduce trash generated at lunch.

Students at both McHenry East and McHenry West took one day at each school to sort and measure trash, recycling, compost and liquid waste to see what kind of garbage is generated during lunch periods.

While doing the audits, the students shared information about why it is important to reduce waste and how to do it.

They also tested the idea of having a share table, or a place where students can bring unwanted and unopened food or drink items to offer up for sharing. Unopened food collected was donated to a local food pantry.

The zero-waste project is part of an effort to reduce what is going to landfills. Students collected weights and measurements of trash to see what kind of an effect McHenry students can have in reducing waste.

“We’re going to make a zero-waste school to significantly help the environment,” McHenry West junior Jamie Rotfeld said. “I think it’s definitely something we can do with time.”

At McHenry East, the Jan. 21 audit showed that an estimated 22,000 pounds of waste is generated in the cafeteria each year.

In a report to the McHenry High School District 156 Board, the McHenry East AP Environmental Science classes estimated a 98% reduction in methane gas produced by trash could be realized with a robust recycling program.

The McHenry East project was led by Tim Beagle, a teacher and division head for science. At McHenry West, teacher Kaley Freund supervised the effort.

During the audits at both schools, juniors visited lunch tables to encourage their classmates to participate.

“I think this project was also a great way to educate other students about how much doing simple things like reusing and recycling can really benefit our environment,” Freund said.

To learn more about completing a waste audit at school, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s information page.

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