An inside look on how Emily Carr Elementary completely revamped their waste system and diverted 800 pounds of recyclables from the landfill.
Cadine (left) with the team of student volunteers that sort classroom waste and recycling.
Emily Carr Elementary School is on a mission. Two years ago, the school took the Zero Waste Challenge to divert recyclables away from the garbage bin. Over the next 730 days, students saved approximately 800 pounds of plastic, foil composites, styrofoam, felts, and glue sticks from the landfill.
The idea started with school and student support worker Cadine Boechler. Looking around the school, with all the preventable garbage being sent to the landfill, she saw both an opportunity and a necessity to change the current waste system.
She built new waste sorting stations for the hallways and classrooms using recycled materials, and created signs with waste items glued on so the kids could recognize where their waste was supposed to go. Every station has separate bins for garbage, blue-bin recyclables, organics, soft plastics, and foil composites—like chip bags and granola bar wrappers. In addition to these bins, classrooms also have bins for felt pens and glue sticks.
Cadine built this waste sorting system in the main hallway.
Once the waste sorting systems were in place, it was time to get the students involved. In order to make sure all students were participating, Cadine recruited a team of student volunteers to go to each classroom and teach about the new system and how to correctly sort waste into the bins. Throughout the school year, as classes produce and sort their waste, every month a couple of students from each class bring their bins outside to a recycling collection area. Another team of regular student volunteers sorts through the classroom bins to make sure there is no contamination, then adds the recycling to the appropriate bins. These bins are then collected and transported by Pacific Mobile Depot once a month for $30/month.
Two student volunteers sort classroom recycling into blue bins.
We got the chance to visit Emily Carr Elementary and chat with Cadine, the mastermind behind this project, about the new waste system and the impact it is having on the students.
What made you decide to do this Zero Waste Challenge?
I decided to do this Zero Waste Challenge when I noticed that the school landfill bin was full of packaging that could be recycled. I thought that the program fit into our school’s environmental goals and connected well with our curriculum, which teaches about taking care of the environment and social responsibility. It just seemed like the right thing to do considering the state of the planet, and a great way to teach the students that it is possible to create solutions.
How has the sorting system impacted how the students recycle and think about waste?
The system has been really transformative for the students. When the grade 5 group went to camp they decided, without any instructions from the teachers, to save all their packaging and bring it back to the school.
Have you received any feedback from parents?
I have had feedback from parents about how the program has really impacted their home life in a positive way. They now save all their packaging and do drop-offs on the weekends! One of our students in grade 2 even spoke to his strata council about increasing the recycling in his building and another has implemented some zero waste practices in her guide group!
What advice would you give to teachers hoping to start a similar program in their school?
My advice for staff who would like to implement a similar program at their school is to have the program be student-led and run. I believe that the success of our program is due to the fact that we had peer educators teach the students workshops about the program and why we are doing it. Our students are also the ones who facilitate a monthly collection and take bins out and back at lunch and recess, so they really own the program and feel proud of what they are doing. I would also say to keep trying new ideas – our program has evolved a lot over the last few years – and to keep acknowledging the students’ participation. I keep track of how much we have saved from the landfill and we just celebrated our 2-year anniversary and, in that time, we saved about 800 pounds from the landfill – an amount that can fill our school office from the floor to the ceiling!
If you have questions about starting a similar system in your school, or about general sustainability in Vancouver schools, please contact the VSB’s Sustainability Office at .If you have questions about starting a similar system in your school, or about general sustainability in Vancouver schools, please contact the VSB’s Sustainability Office at firstname.lastname@example.org