EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – According to a group of fifth-graders at Eastchester's Anne Hutchinson Elementary School, throwing away food should not be an option. Instead, the pupils, along with teacher Dave O'Neill, reading teacher Vidya Bhat and head custodian Jameson Tomczak, have developed a program of recycling and composting all lunchroom waste.
The effort has not gone unnoticed. When Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino announced the winners of the county's annual awards for outstanding programs to promote waste reduction and recycling, O'Neill's' fifth-grade class was on the list.
Astorino was scheduled to formally present the awards during Earth Day festivities at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at Kensico Plaza in Valhalla.
According to O'Neill, the project began as an extension on what has already been established in the school. A 400-square-foot vegetable garden was started in 2003 and a yard waste composting project began in 2005. In 2007, the school opened a 2,000-square-foot butterfly garden and, in 2010, started five 100-square-foot organic vegetable gardens.
This year, O'Neill said, "We established a bin system in the lunchroom that breaks waste into several categories, including commingled plastics, aluminum and glass, soft plastic, returnable bottles and cans, chip bags, Styrofoam trays and products, compostable materials and juice pouch beverages. We also have a system in place for disposing of liquids before the container is recycled or thrown away. This has significantly reduced the weight of the trash."
Over the past three months, the system has reduced trash from eight large bags to a quarter of a bag per day, he said.
O'Neill said kitchen staff was bought into the project.
"Our cafeteria staff is also onboard and recycles and compost all waste from the preparation of the meals. We are diverting over 60 pounds of compostable waste per day from the lunchroom and composting the items on site at the garden," he said.
O'Neill said that while the kids enjoy the recognition, they also take pride in what they are accomplishing.
"The kids have seen an idea and system that has grown from the grass roots up and taken flight," he said. "The recognition is wonderful and the kids see merit in their efforts. They enjoy being honored but also see the tangible difference they are making."