Sometimes a seemingly simple idea can make a big impact.
Executive Director of Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships Missy Mohler thought disposal sorting bins she saw at Whole Foods Market would be a good fit for Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.
The bins, housed in wooden cabinets, had clear compartments with examples of each bin’s material.
Mohler snapped a pic and shared with Joanna Walters of Sierra Cost Management and TTUSD’s Anna Klovstad, who leads the district’s sustainability, energy conservation and waste reduction efforts.
Klovstad thought the bins would compliment the district’s Green Team efforts with accurate sorting to prevent contamination. The bins are customizable, so each Green Team decides what materials will be collected.
Truckee Elementary composts lunchroom waste. Glenshire Elementary and others participate in terracycling. Some schools might sort aluminum separately from other recyclables.
The women took their idea to Mike Nedersole of MD Construction. Nedersole developed a drawing and built a prototype he shared with the Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe (C.A.T.T.) Community Project group.
C.A.T.T. Community Project agreed to work with Nedersole, volunteering their design and construction time to complete six bins, two each for use at Truckee Elementary, Tahoe Lake Elementary and Kings Beach Elementary schools where the Green Teams have established sorting programs.
Community collaboration didn’t end there. The costly project materials weren’t in the schools’ or the district’s budgets.
Mohler and Klovstad approached The Shane McConkey Foundation, which has funded the elementary school Green Team’s establishment, helped Truckee Elementary become the first “green school” in the district and offered a $20,000 EcoChallenge grant previously.
The Foundation agreed to pay for the Kings Beach and Tahoe Lake bin material. Truckee Elementary’s PTO covered the materials cost for their school.
Klovstad believes the bins present additional educational opportunity. The students accurately monitor what percentage of their school’s waste is recycled, composted, reused, terracycled and goes into landfills. The Green Teams go through the bin bags, make sure proper materials were deposited, weigh each bag and keep record of it.
“This one small project is so united with how the district is trying to shift the teaching process to hands-on and directly relevant learning, that fits in with the Common Core ideas,” said Klovstad. “Already students are aware of the impacts that they’ve had in reducing what goes into landfills. They are taking this knowledge home with them and educating their families and the community to use reusable containers and shopping bags. Our students are truly becoming stewards of the environment.”
The Green Teams at each school got busy preparing the bins and setting up the viewing areas for unveiling ceremonies at their schools.
Tahoe Lake Elementary, Truckee Elementary, and Kings Beach Elementary each had special assemblies the week of April 28 to unveil the bins and honor Earth Day. The Green Teams put on skits and demonstrated how to use the smart sorting bins in school-wide assemblies.
Klovstad is exploring grants and other options to build more bins.
Since the establishment of TTUSD’s energy and conservation program in 2008, the program has saved $400,000 annually in electricity and gas alone.
Green Teams, with support from The Shane McConkey Foundation, SWEP, Klovstad and other community partners have succeeded in the following initiatives:
Reusuable trays for lunch instead of disposable paper boats are now used at all elementary school sites.
Kings Beach Elementary, Glenshire Elementary and Truckee Elementary schools have eliminated disposable sporks from their cafeterias and now use reusable utensils. These first two initiatives also involved great collaboration with the district’s and individual schools’ Food Service departments.
100 percent post-consumer recycled paper towels are used district-wide.
Hand dryers replaced paper towels at Kings Beach and Truckee Elementary.
Eco action clubs have been formed at the middle schools.
The Shane McConkey Foundation recently awarded $3,000 of their EcoChallenge funds to North Tahoe High School. Their project was designed to raise environmental awareness by promoting daily actions students and staff can take to reduce their impact on the environment.
EcoFriendly Fridays encouraged students to use reusable lunch bags, take reusable water bottles and to turn off lights when not in use.
NTHS plans to use the money to install a water bottle refilling station to replace the water bottle vending machine.