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News / Clark County News

Green Team at Gause reduces waste, saves money

Program’s focus to instill recyling habits in students

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: June 2, 2019, 4:48pm

Gause Elementary School’s Green Team formed earlier this school year to start looking at how to reduce waste through the Clark County Green Schools program, and within a year, the school is saving thousands of dollars.

The school previously had a 6-yard garbage container that was emptied three times a week. Gause now has one 8-yard dumpster picked up once a week.

“The monthly savings will be $827.87, and the yearly savings is $9,934.34,” Meg Johnson, Waste Connections of Washington’s waste reduction educator, said in a release from the district. “It’s an amazing amount of money that they’ll be saving, not to mention the amount of waste being diverted from the landfill.”

Waste Connections works with Clark County Green Schools. The Gause Green Team is made up of students and led by custodian Ellen Lancaster.

Michelle Picinich, environmental outreach specialist for the Green Schools program, said the first step was to conduct a waste audit, measuring and weighing all waste that came into the school. They took note of what could be recycled or composted. Toward the end of the school year, another audit was conducted.

“We saw a massive reduction in waste,” Picinich said. “A huge part of that was milk cartons.”

This school year, Gause officials installed a milk dispenser in the cafeteria. Clark County received funding from Washington Department of Ecology’s Local Solid Waste Financial Assistance program to work with several local schools to pilot serving milk using dispensers and washable cups rather than cartons.

Picinich said another change through the program is to bring sorting tables to schools, where students sort everything to determine what is waste, what can be recycled and what can be composted. The compostible food collected from schools is picked up by Waste Connections and sent to Dirt Hugger in Dallesport, where it is mixed with yard debris.

“We want to explain the why to students, and why we’re separating food from garbage,” Picinich said. “We start young, so they learn why. We do see it drop off some in middle school and high school, which is frustrating.”

Picinich said some students have gone home and realized their own families don’t recycle, and they explain to their parents why it’s important to do so.

Schools like Gause also have something called the share table, where students can leave behind items of food they haven’t eaten and don’t intend to, so other students can take them. That cuts down on things like students throwing away entire apples, Picinich said.

Gause is certified at the bronze level in waste and recycling by Washington Green Schools. Schools can also get certified in energy, healthy school buildings, school grounds and gardens, transportation and water.

Columbian Staff Writer