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By Emily (Em) Wagner
Reducing pollution and our output of waste is vital for cleaning up the Earth. We can even start in our own cafeteria. This is an issue that can easily be solved if the school staff, cafeteria staff, and students work together. We could reduce the amount of styrofoam we use as well as use the compost bin in order to help.
I talked to Ms. Gotwals, a teacher at Goshen High School who teaches environmental science. I asked her for some ways we can work together to clean up our cafeteria.
“This past year was the first time we have started doing some composting”, says Ms. Gotwals, “There are bins by the trash cans, my third period and seventh period help out with putting the buckets out there, then we take them outside. So that’s at least diverting that from the landfill. It will go out, it will decompose into soil that can be used on the lawns and flowerbeds. It is reducing landfill waste. Another big way is to use the sharing food system. If you have unopened food, you can put it in the designated metal bin for others. You can also not take what you will not eat. A lot of kids buy water bottles from the vending machines, especially right now because the water fountains are closed due to Covid, but having a reusable water bottle would be a huge way to eliminate a lot of that plastic waste that can be recycled, but it still takes up energy and materials.”
Styrofoam is incredibly wasteful. Not only does it take up over thirty percent of landfill space, it takes over five hundred years to decompose, it also consists of toxic and hazardous chemicals such as styrene and benzene that leak into food and drinks. Luckily, there are ways of solving this issue.
“You’re not having to send reusable items to the landfill, you’re not having to buy it new every time, saving those resources and the energy to produce them,” she added. “I know it does take extra sterilizing and washing, and those things are probably more expensive to begin with. The cafeteria staff may be open to some suggestions. One other thing is eliminating plastic straws that are unnecessary, that would be a huge way to eliminate a lot of trash and resource use that is not even needed.”
GHS has recently implemented a compost bin in the cafeteria. Not only does it reduce the amount of waste in the landfill and the school, but it also enriches soil, reduces toxins and pollution, reduces greenhouse gases, all at a minimal cost.
“Those nutrients that are in those food scraps are going to go out to the compost bin and get composted back into really high nutrients soil. So that will go back into our ecosystems, into our soil in order to grow more things in our flower beds and gardens, as opposed to if it goes in the trash and to the landfill, that stuff just gets sealed off and sits there and those nutrients never go back into the soil and the ecosystems.”
Another important aspect is encouraging others to want to help.
“One big motivator is money, so if you have a reusable water bottle, for example, you’re not spending a dollar at the vending machine everyday, if you do that for one hundred and eighty days, versus a water bottle that would be ten dollars. So you save one hundred and seventy dollars,” she encourages. “Money is a very big motivator, like if the cafeteria monitors are debating whether or not to buy plastic straws, it would save them money if they did not have to buy them anymore.”
Working together is the best way to solve this problem quickly and effectively. Ask questions, and have conversations with others about what is happening around you.
“Bringing up those conversations and asking those questions, maybe they never thought of taking away the plastic straws, it could be something that they just have always done. If students are asking questions or proposing solutions and suggestions, then people would be more likely to listen if they are aware that people would like to see those changes. Another good thing is that people tend to jump on board with things that they see happening around them. If they see other people composting or using the food sharing table, they are much more likely to join in.”
The future looks brighter when not only students, but also teachers take care of the world around them.
“I have been very impressed with the students and their composting. We did two trial days last spring and we were not sure if there was going to be a lot of trash in there or if nobody would use the buckets, but people were using them really well and we even had to add a second bucket. It was really neat seeing everyone jump on board with that.”
Even the smallest acts have a big impact on the environment. The littlest of actions create a ripple effect and encourage others to get involved.