Students try to trim trash from their school lunches

May 03, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

After their survey showed that Eldersburg Elementary School was discarding too much lunch trash, three fifth-grade students launched their own Earth-saving program. Now the 11-year-old boys are urging their schoolmates to pack environmentally friendly lunches.

The school lunch crowd of 500 throws away bags, cardboard drink boxes, candy wrappers and plastic bags by the hundreds.

All that refuse goes to the county landfill in 35 huge garbage bags a week.

"It's true; I helped count," said Philip Vanier. "Almost every day, we fill seven bags with trash from lunch."

Philip and two classmates keep a daily trash chart, which is posted in the school cafeteria, and report findings on the school's closed-circuit morning news.

"Only on pizza day, when most children buy their lunch, did we notice any reduction in the number of bags," said Martin E. Tierney, resource teacher who helps the boys with the project.

After a week of counting, the boys decided it was time to reduce. They offered their schoolmates environmentally friendly alternatives.

"Instead of drink cartons, use a Thermos," said Philip. "Put your sandwiches in plastic containers that you can use again."

"Bring a lunch box to school instead of a bag," said Michael Hooper.

Todd Bonney saw a problem in convincing students that boxes are "cooler."

"A lot of fifth-graders don't think lunch boxes are cool," he said. "They are kid stuff, and we wanna act like teens. The first grade all use lunch boxes. By the time kids get to fifth grade, it's all bags."

He found a solution: reusable fabric bags.

"Just something plain with no design or anything, that would be cool and they might use it," he said. "If the fifth-graders start, the younger ones will follow us."

Todd said cutting the number of trash bags to four a day by the end of the school year is the group's goal. Three bags would be better, he said, and wonders if one daily bag is impossible.

"No matter what we eliminate, we would still have paper napkins," said Philip, eyeing his sleeve. "But, who needs a napkin when you got your clothes?"

Mr. Tierney vetoed that idea right away.

The boys considered posting "buy your lunch" posters around the school, but scrapped that idea because "most people don't like all the cafeteria food," said Todd. Sticking with reusable containers and acceptable recyclables might be more successful, he feels.

"Getting everybody to do this is the hard part," Todd said.

"We have to make our presentations exciting and be good examples," Michael said.

Philip and Todd have written commercials for the school's morning news and give daily progress bulletins.

"We are the next generation," Philip said. "We have to save the trees and prevent any more breaks in the ozone."

Seven symbolic trash bags, filled with balloons, line one wall of the cafeteria. As soon as the trash volume is reduced by one bag, the boys will dump the balloons and pop them.

"How about an award every time we get less trash?" asked Todd. "A movie and popcorn, maybe."

Mr. Tierney said the boys have the entire student body involved in the recycling effort.

George's Super Thrift in Eldersburg sent 500 grocery bags to the school.

The children decorated them with environmental messages and nature pictures and sent them back to the food store.

Now George's shoppers are getting the messages along with their groceries.

"If we get children involved early on, they will carry responsible practices to adulthood," Mr. Tierney said.

The strategy is working -- at least with Philip, Michael and Todd.

"We are going to get the fourth grade to keep this program going next year," Todd said. "And, we are going to start it in middle school when we get there."

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