Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bellevue high school shows it's possible to incorporate sustainability into student life

Last Monday, students and faculty at Bellevue's Interlake High School launched an event called "Green Week" to celebrate and practice the values of sustainability and environmental protection. The event, intended to go beyond just raising awareness, encompassed a wide range of fun and informative activities.

On Monday, students watched an informational video in class which highlighted all of the planned activities. On Tuesday, students wore green clothes to emphasize their commitment to leaving a lighter impact on the Earth. And on Saturday, students gathered to plant trees on school grounds.

But the highlight of Green Week was a two day trial period which aimed to reinvent waste management at Interlake.

The Environmental Club received a grant to use compostable plates and utensils in the cafeteria instead of using styrofoam. Additionally, a compost bin was installed so that students could take advantage of food waste recycling.

Student body president Stephen Bronskill (also the founder of both Interlake's Environmental Club and Interlake for Obama) said of the event:
This is a major step forward for our school and the entire Bellevue School District. Interlake High School uses over six hundred styrofoam trays a day. That is 108,000 trays a year and over one million trays district-wide every year. Styrofoam takes over a million years to degrade. Do we want that to be our legacy?
Stephen is absolutely asking the correct question: What should our legacy be - or, in other words, what do we want to leave behind? A carcinogenic hazard like styrofoam rotting in a landfill that future generations will have to deal with?

There's a better way. And as Stephen says, getting people to change their habits starts with leading by example.
The school board is watching this program. We received a grant to do this initial trial, but there is talk that when we prove that high school students care about the environment, the program may be expanded district-wide next year.
An administrator from the Bellevue School District came to Interlake High School during Green Week to survey the pilot project. She noted that the district's primary objective is to save money.

Because the compostable trays result in less garbage and more recycling, it's cost beneficial for the district to do the environmentally responsible thing (proving once again that neither of those goals is mutually exclusive).

As long as students remember to utilize food waste recycling, it's a win-win situation. The Bellevue School District saves money by reducing trash and relying more upon recycling. (It's cheaper for Allied Waste to haul away recycled materials versus garbage, which doesn't end up getting reused).

Compostable trays cost more money than styrofoam trays, so permanently switching away from styrofoam may not happen immediately. The District may instead elect to implement food waste recycling only at first.

For the time being, that's a good start. The compostable trays are not widely accepted by the student body yet anyway. The general consensus among students is that the compostable plates are bad because they melt with mashed potatoes on them. Until the plates can meet the school mashed potato test, it may not be the right time to switch over to them.

Interlake High is getting closer to becoming a more environmentally friendly school. Students have demonstrated that they care about the Earth and believe in that timeless saying that serves as inspiration to progressive activists everywhere: "We are the ones we have been waiting for."


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