BATTLE GROUND — As the lunch line opens at Laurin Middle School, a group of clamoring fifth-graders crowded around a device affectionately nicknamed Bessie.
She’s no brown-eyed bovine, as her name would suggest. This gleaming Bessie has more of an industrial, robotic feel that, nonetheless, is well-suited for delivering kids a punch of midday calcium — without the waste of single-serve cardboard cartons.
Laurin Middle School welcomed Bessie the milk dispenser to campus in October, phasing out the small cartons that are chucked — sometimes without students drinking the milk at all — into the garbage before kids head out to recess or their next class.
“We waste a ton of milk,” Laurin principal Matt Kesler said. “We’re also wasting the cardboard containers.”
Students instead grab a reusable plastic glass, fill it with however much chocolate or unflavored milk as they’d like, and drop it off with their lunch trays before leaving lunch.
The Battle Ground Public Schools campus is one of two schools in Clark County to install the devices thanks to a grant administered by Clark County Public Health’s Green Schools initiative. Green Schools received a $40,000 grant to cover the cost of the dispensers, glasses, dishwashing racks and other equipment to several schools throughout the county.
“It takes a lot of players to pull off a change like this,” said Michelle Picinich, an environmental outreach specialist with Clark County Green Schools.
York Elementary School in Evergreen Public Schools is the only other campus that currently has a milk dispenser, but more are expected to come online early next year.
Campus leaders are optimistic the change will result in less waste at the campus. A preliminary audit at Laurin taken earlier this year showed that, at the end of all lunch periods, students recycled 303 milk cartons, coming in at 10.3 pounds. They also dumped out three gallons of unused milk. At York, students recycled 183 cartons, or 5.1 pounds of cardboard. There they dumped 12 gallons of unused milk. Green Schools will do another waste audit later this year.
“Our hope is that school districts will see this as a great alternative to milk served in cartons and choose to add that to all of their schools,” Picinich said.
Kesler admits there’s been a bit of a novelty factor to the milk dispenser. Kids didn’t understand at first that they can decide how much milk they want, if they want it at all, and were throwing some away. That’s wearing off, though, and students are coming to appreciate the dispenser.
“The milk tastes so much better,” Kesler said. “It’s fresh, it’s cold.”
Students eating their lunches concurred. Kelsey Bisconer, 11, filled a glass with chocolate milk before taking off to her table. Kelsey called the new installation “fun.”
“I like it,” she said. “We can pour our own milk.”
Greyson Miller, another 11-year-old, agreed.
“I can get it fresh and it tastes better,” Greyson said.