This week in Wilton Public Schools, the focus is on Zero Waste!

Age appropriate activities will take place at all four schools, working to reinforce the Wilton Zero Waste Schools’ messaging to students. Daily emails from the district will also go out to parents this week in support of the week’s programming, sharing strategies to help students and residents waste less food, compost, recycle properly, and reduce the use of products such as plastic bags, water bottles, and straws.

“Overall we are trying to get our students to understand the impact they can have on the future of our environment,” explains Heather Priest, who teaches culinary science and sustainability at Middlebrook Middle School.

“Wilton is currently the only school district in Connecticut where every school is involved in becoming a Zero Waste school,” says Nicola Davies, Wilton parent and one of the Zero Waste program coordinators.

Thanks to Priest and fellow Middlebrook school teacher Janet Nobles, Wilton Public Schools embarked on a journey last year to reduce the amount of waste produced in its four schools, with the theme “Warriors Won’t Waste.” With support from Wilton Go Green, individualized plans were developed and implemented at each school to increase recycling, compost organic materials, and donate any uneaten food from students to those in need.

Programs have been thoughtfully designed with help from Wilton Zero Waste committee members Davies, Tammy Thornton, and Laura Rowley to encourage Wilton students to change the way they look at waste, since the kids’ role is crucial for the success of the Zero Waste initiative. To help Miller Driscoll students for example, understand what the 180 pounds of food waste that is created in each school’s cafeteria every day looks like, teachers compare this amount to  the equivalent of 60 human brains, 22 cats, 40 Chihuahuas or 150 basketballs.

This week, at both Miller Driscoll and Cider Mill, students will kick off Zero Waste Week with a video on composting. The Wilton Zero Waste committee has also put together other recommended activities for teachers to implement in the classroom, including videos on recycling, activities and games on sorting recyclables and how to pack a waste-free lunch and lesson plans such as “The Quest for Less” and “Do the Rot Thing.” Zero Waste Volunteer Monitors will be in place for each lunch shift to help students and staff sort lunch leftovers into compost, recycling, and garbage, with the goal to help our younger students understand that food that goes into the garbage instead of being composted cannot break down properly. Disposing food as garbage releases harmful gases that damage the earth; but by composting food it can be turned back into soil safely.

At Middlebrook, organizers have planned daily challenges with a specific theme and the opportunity to win prizes:

  • Monday: Why Do We Compost?
  • Tuesday: Stop Purchasing Single Use Products
  • Wednesday: Reduce Food Waste (Only Bring or Buy What You Will Eat)
  • Thursday: Bring in Your Plastic Bags for Recycling
  • Friday: Skip the Straw

Zero Waste Bins at Middlebrook

Prizes include a kitchen composter, reusable water bottle, reusable sandwich bags, a reusable grocery bag, and a set of stainless steel straws. Families will be brought into the Middlebrook activities through conversations and collections of materials from home. Last year Middlebrook diverted over five tons of food waste and six tons of recycling out of the main garbage stream. This week’s challenges aim to continue the great work around reducing waste as well as to continue to empower students to share sustainable behaviors with family at home to make an even greater, positive impact on our planet.

At Wilton High School, short, educational messages will be sent to students through the “Morning Warrior” and the text service, ‘Remind.’ Davies shared they will be focusing in on compost, driving home that compost is unwrapped food scraps only. “Food scraps today, future garden compost tomorrow. We are reinforcing that diverting waste from landfill is the right thing to do,” Davies emphasized.

WHS principal Dr. Bob O’Donnell near one of the zero waste stations in the school’s cafeteria. (photo: Amy Korn/Twitter)

Setting the Sustainability Standard

Wilton’s Zero Waste initiative is gaining momentum and the program has been lauded for its commitment to education and environmental stewardship as a recipient of grant prize money from Recycle CT and the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund and as a 2018 Live Green Climate Champion for innovative leadership.

The town continues to lead the way by expanding the program’s reach. Just last week, approximately 50 representatives from 12 Connecticut towns–Wilton, Weston, Westport, Greenwich, Stamford, Ridgefield, Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk, Fairfield, Newtown, and Brookfield–and Mamaroneck, NY, came together in Wilton’s Middlebrook School cafeteria for the first Zero Waste Schools Coalition meeting.

The Zero Waste Schools Coalition was formed to create a platform for schools in Connecticut and beyond to connect, learn and share ways to introduce or enhance programming to reduce waste in our schools. Coalition participants will receive a follow-up email sharing contacts, presentations and resources to continue “ZW” discussions in their communities, and to encourage further outreach.

The next Zero Waste Schools Coalition meeting will coincide with the second annual Zero Waste Faire at the Wilton High School Field House on Saturday, March 23, 2019. Anyone (i.e., administrators, teachers, custodians, food service employees, parents, community members and students) interested in reducing waste in their schools (pre-K through college) can join the Zero Waste Schools Coalition by registering online.

For more information on the Wilton Zero Waste Schools program, visit the website. For more specific ways on how to contribute to overall environmental sustainability at home or in the community during Zero Waste Week and beyond, a handy “how to help” document has been put together by program leaders.