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VIDEO: Saving the World One Lunch Tray at a Time

Environmental education is elementary at Bridge School in Lexington, where student volunteers lead lunchtime recycling, other environmental efforts.

At , young students are getting excited about the kind of household chores that ordinarily send kids their age running in the opposite direction.

In just a few short months, the Eco-Bridge PTA Committee has rallied more than 100 student volunteers to help with lunchtime recycling, classroom collections and other environmentally driven initiatives. 

With assistance from the parent volunteers and the supportive custodial staff, Bridge School students grades K-5 have been leading the recycling charge every day at lunchtime since October. 

After finishing their meals, a team of Eco-Volunteers assembles to assist classmates with their sorting of papers from plastics from liquids and so forth, instead of simply dumping a tray into the trash.

“Before this, I didn’t really know much of that stuff, I only knew to recycle paper and a bunch of that stuff,” said Alexander Cohen, a fifth-grader and lunchtime volunteer. “But now I realize it’s more important to do that stuff to save the Earth.” 

These efforts have led to significant savings on trash weight – about 56 percent saved daily, and 89 percent with composting on Fridays, according to Nimisha Asthagiri, the Eco-Bridge PTA Committee Chair.

But more than what they’re achieving inside the school, supporters of the Eco-Bridge initiatives say they’re encouraged that students are taking their lessons learned out into the real world, and encouraging the people in their lives to recycle, reduce and reuse.

“If you can recycle in school, you can recycle anywhere,” said Tara Gill, a Bridge student who recycles at lunchtime. “We’re making a difference for the Earth.”

Eco-Bridge efforts have moved beyond the cafeteria to the classrooms, and will leak out into Lexington’s business community later this week, when a smattering of shops will send customers home toting bags decorated with environmental messages by Bridge School students.

“We’re all very concerned that our children learn about recycling, learn about reuse, learn about being careful in the first place not to overuse things, because it’s their world,” said Lucia Gates, a guidance counselor at Bridge School. “That might sound trite, but it’s their world that is at stake.”

In addition to their daily work inside the cafeteria, Eco-Bridge volunteers are also collecting recyclables inside the classroom. As a result, Bridge has even been able to sell back some unexpected recyclables like magic markers, glue sticks, tape rolls and printer cartridges as a revenue source for the school.

All in all, the Eco-Bridge efforts have been a real positive for the elementary school, according to parents, participants and administrators. 

“The students are responsible for recycling, and they’re invested,” said Vice Principal Erin Maguire, who noted administrative involvement is minimal, but parental investment is key to the success of Eco-Bridge initiatives.

That more than 100 elementary-schoolers have signed on to wipe down lunch trays and wheel around recycling bins may sound surprising, but the students don’t see their participation as work, but rather a fun way to protect their planet.

“It seemed like a fun thing to do at the time, because it was something other than school,” said Zoe Prestbo, a fourth-grader, “And you’re helping the Earth.”

Stakeholders say that support from parents, the school administration, students and the custodians have been key to the success of Eco-Bridge efforts. 

A number of parent volunteers oversee daily lunchtime recycling, but the custodial staff sets up the recycling station and picks up after lunch periods are finished. Without their support, recycling in this fashion would not be possible.

“Oh it’s very important that they are learning to take care of the environment,” said Paul O’Connell, the school’s head custodian. “It’s pretty much run by the kids and parents. … It’s unbelievable. We put out about 15 totes of recycling twice a week.”

and has grown into a student-driven daily program.  Now, supporters envision expanding beyond Bridge and into other elementary schools around town. But those conversations are in the very early stages, and Bridge parents have their sights set on more local goals, like cutting into the 40 pounds of milk dumped out every day. 

“There’s definitely a lot that still can be done,” said Asthagiri, the Eco-Bridge chair.

For more information about Eco-Bridge initiatives, check out the group's website.

A few additional Earth Day activities include Bridge students participating in the Earth Day Groceries Project, and Bridge students computing how many pounds of carbon they will save by walking, carpooling or busing to school on a special Safe Routes to School Earth Day Project.

Liz Weiss April 25, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Way to go! This shows how kids, parents, and school staff can bring about positive and productive change through teamwork and innovative thinking. It's free, strives to save the planet, and teaches everyone important lessons on being responsible citizens! I'm so proud of everyone involved in this project and hope to see it spread to the other schools in Lexington.
Holly Pearson April 25, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Great job. Another step in the right direction would be to initiate "Meatless Mondays" as other schools districts like Brookline have done. Since animal agriculture is the biggest contributor to Climate Change, cutting down on meat consumption is a positive step for all.
Audra Myerberg April 25, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Wonderful!! I hope this expands to all of the school in Lexington.
Shivani Mehra April 26, 2012 at 12:28 PM
Great initiative by team Eco-Bridge, and wonderful job by all the volunteers.

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