StopWaste at School


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The 4Rs: A Wild Outdoor Experience

The irecycle@school Ed Center provides its environmental educators throughout the school year with opportuniti~Renee' Maningding~Renee' Maningdinges for professional enrichment. During these often eye-opening experiences, we learn new ways to engage our audience, become inspired to teach and ultimately, come away with a renewed appreciation for the work of environmental education. Sadly, Environmental Education ranks low on the list of priorities and is difficult for teachers to incorporate into their classroom curriculum. Outdoor programs help to give students the chance to connect with wild places while bringing concepts and lessons to life. YMCA Camp Arroyo, which is an environmental education center and youth camp in Livermore, is one such program.

As an environmental education assistant, you are always looking for new ways to spark students' interest, or find fun but firm ways to manage the group. Observing the Camp Arroyo staff gave us new insights as well as a breath of fresh air, both figuratively and literally (the Pit vs. Oak Woodlands and green hills.) Both Ed Centers focus on food waste, among other environmental themes. At Camp Arroyo, students collect their ort, or food waste, after every meal, which staff record and report. The goal is that by the end of their 3 day and 2 night stay, the 4- 6th graders would have reduced their ort to 1 liter or less. Whatever ort is produced is fed to Carla the Compost Bin, who is taken out by a group to the compost bins in the garden. This reinforces the message here at the irecycle@school Ed Center to, "Think before you toss," but it also implies that we should not waste this food in the first place, as food is grown and cared for, by people. The work of the Camp Arroyo staff inspired me by transforming "lunch" to making choices as a community.

Moreover, many urban students do not have access to a home garden, fresh fruits or vegetables, or even compost bins, for those who live in multi-family complexes. The garden is a 'sacred place,' where all are welcome to smell the chocolate or mint basil, taste the calendula petal, hear the bees, and witness their food scraps' gradual transformation from gross, to compost! In order to help address this issue, StopWaste.Org has scholarships (camperships) to assist schools with a commitment to the 4R's and high percentage of low-income students. These are provided to schools who may not attend camps otherwise.

Back at the Ed Center, things are always changing as we incorporate new ideas from professional enrichment and from each other. However, the experience at Camp Arroyo provides inspiration and a reason as to why we should practice the 4R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot! By diverting garbage we send to the Altamont Landfill in Livermore, we are able to have open spaces and continue to educate our urban youth and citizenry about the importance of enjoying and protecting our environment.

Camp Arroyo offers its programs during the school year for 4th graders and above. For more information, visit their website at:

RAFT and East Bay Depot Offer Creative Reuse Inspiration

Educators in our Bay Area have two great resources to encourage the practice of "reuse" in the classroom: the Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT) in San Jose and the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse ("the Depot") in Oakland. We visited both facilities to get ideas on "reuse" projects to share with students, and certainly were inspired as we wandered through aisles of seemingly endless reuse materials and project ideas. The materials available at both locations are similar, but differ in their source: while the Depot will take donations from the general public, RAFT receives items in large quantities from businesses. For example, when a business closes down, they may donate all of their office file folders – the quantity of which may reach the hundreds – to RAFT.

We laud the merits of "reuse" particularly because there are so many possibilities that only require a bit of human persistence and genius! In the comfort of the classroom or home, one can easily create art, science, or math projects. RAFT and the Depot had some ideas for us: the many toilet tube rolls at the Depot can be turned into kaleidoscopes, and RAFT has a neat kit for a toy car propelled by rubber bands.

Selected Materials from the East Bay DepotSelected Materials from the East Bay Depot

Components in this kit include straws, leftover pieces of polystyrene, and rubber bands – things that anyone can find leftover in abundance from packaging anywhere. Each individual piece, while at the surface seems like an item to be thrown away or recycled, can be combined to create a project that teaches students about the laws of physics.

The photo to the right shows the miscellaneous materials that can be found at the Depot – jars, mismatched jar lids, milk cartons, tins, and corks – all of which can become platforms for great science, art, and math projects in the classroom.

Renee' browsing materials at RAFT for purchase. By Jeannie PhamRenee' browsing materials at RAFT for purchase. By Jeannie PhamBack at our Education Center, I pull discarded plastic yogurt cups and empty egg cartons from a box labeled, "Creative Reuse Box" and ask students to talk amongst themselves about what they could do if they had thirty of these in a classroom. Less than five seconds into the activity, I can hear a buzz of ideas:

"You could separate different colored paints with the egg carton!"

"Or, we could put some dirt into each carton and plant seeds."

"For the yogurt containers, I would use them to store my markers/crayons/pencils"

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Custodians Are Key In Well-Run School Recycling Programs

Custodians are some of the hardest workers at schools, from maintaining classrooms, taking out the garbage and recycling, fixing everything from toilets to light fixtures, and just about everything else that makes a school operate. These important figures seldom get much notice, as they are usually behind the scenes and extremely busy.

Last month, we were honored to give a tour of the Davis St. Transfer Station to the Alameda Unified and Oakland Unified custodians, who came to see where all those garbage bags and recyclables go after it leaves their premises. Many of the custodians had been to the Transfer Station before on personal trips, in fact, a few had even been coming since they were children themselves, when Davis St. was still an operating landfill. None, however, had seen the inside workings of the MRF where recyclables get sorted, or the "Pit" where garbage gets dumped by the garbage trucks before going to the landfill.

This opportunity provided these custodians with the inside scoop on things that affect their day-to-day lives, like why they have to empty the milk cartons before recycling, or to use a liner for garbage but leave recyclables loose. They were able to receive the "why" for the work they do, and feel that much more connected to the bigger cause: that recycling is not just the effort of one person, but the collaboration of an entire industry, each step of the way.

Rebecca Jewell, Recycling Program Manager at Davis St Transfer Station (WM, Inc)By Andrew SloanBy Andrew Sloan, as well as Rebecca Parnes, Recycling Specialist for Waste Management both led the tours around the site. I ended up befriending an Alameda custodian named Pete, who despite being on his week vacation, made it out to the tour. "If I don't have the right information, then how are the students supposed to get the right information about how to recycle?" Pete brings up a good point that was stressed later by Rebecca Parnes to the rest of the group, that a successful recycling program should actually be easier on the custodians, not harder. It's the kids that should be overseeing the program, teaching each other and taking responsibility. For example, having a "Recycle Monitor", who wears an apron and points the students to the correct container to dispose of their materials: trash, recycle, compost, or liquids.

This day was one among many efforts by StopWaste.Org to train our Alameda County custodians on how to reduce waste at their school and save their district money on disposal fees. StopWaste.Org hosted a Custodian Training Workshop at the Chabot Space and Science Center in October that featured keynote speakers, a panel of Oakland Unified custodians with successful recycling programs, as well as informational booths from various county and waste related organizations.

35 Year Old Newspapers Excavated From Landfill Report on Closing of Landfill

Trash Transfer Site to Be ExaminedTrash Transfer Site to Be ExaminedA recent excavation at the Davis St. Transfer Station in San Leandro, viagra buy CA unearthed perfectly preserved newspapers entombed in the former Oakland Scavenger landfill site.  The excavation was part of a project designed to expand waste reduction efforts at the transfer station.  The newspaper, printed on February 15, 1976, details the rezoning process of the San Leandro Planning Commision to permit the facility to become a modern transfer station.  Other articles detailed plans to reject "rubbish" as the landfill scaled down its operations.

Dump to Reject RubbishDump to Reject Rubbish

Because landfills are tightly sealed, the newspaper was protected from air and water for the last 35 years, which helped to prevent decomposition.  

1976 Archaeological Finds at the Davis St. Landfill

Article by Renee ManingdingArticle by Renee Maningding Not many of us can say we've been to an actual landfill. But chances are, the area where you and your neighbors live, work, and or play was once a landfill! The iRecycle@School Education Center at the Davis Street Transfer Station is one such example. Students and chaperones raise their eyebrows in shock when they realize they are sitting on top of what was once the Davis Street Landfill from 1942 to 1979. Unsorted garbage was routinely buried in "dry tomb" landfills where materials were preserved. So in December of 2010 when 3,000 tons of 1976 material were excavated for a new green waste drop-off building, like the tip of an iceberg, we got a glimpse of our society and waste management at that time.

Many of the items were intact after they were allowed to get rained on and stayed damp for a month. However, the stink was awful - a sign that the decomposing process had finally begun with the presence of oxygen and water. Our gloved hands carefully turned the pages of local newspapers dated from Feb 10 - 20th, 1976, including The Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle to find countless ads and even an article about the closing of the Davis St. Landfill itself. There were plenty of Coca-Cola and 7 Up aluminum cans, a plastic 6-pack ring, glass bottles, and a Hunt's tomato sauce steel can. Cardboard packaging included flattened boxes of Kellogg's SMACKS cereal, Lucerne Sweet Cream Butter, and a box of Schilling mix to make Tostados. We also found a piece of math homework and a milk carton with a red, plastic straw still inside! When Katie was asked if she would wear one of the 70s outfits that was uncovered, she replied, without hesitation, "Yes, I would wear it."

Newspaper - then and nowNewspaper - then and nowOne question I had was why were there so many recyclables? As Tom Padia of StopWaste.Org notes, "The earliest curbside recycling program only started in the late 1970s and early 1980's- most of them came along in the later 1980's and early 1990's. There was no separate collection of plant debris (i.e. yard waste) prior to the mid-1990's.  Landfill was too cheap." Perhaps that explains the grass clippings (still green) and the corn cob we found.

Imagine what it was like here in Alameda County in the 70s, where, in San Leandro alone, the population grew from 426 in 1870 to 65,698 people in 1970. With a greater population came the growing need for livable space and so the wetlands became prime locations for landfills. That is why the San Francisco Bay is lined with landfills. One chaperone who came along on a field trip at the Fremont Transfer Station noted her surprise when she found out that many of her co-workers were living on top of a former landfill in Union City! What we didn't realize back then was just how important the wetlands and marshes were in providing ecosystem services such as water purification, flood control, and habitat for wildlife. Nowadays, these landfills are closed and are managed for methane production. Some are even becoming places for recreation, such as San Leandro's Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline, which is next door to Davis St. Transfer Station, allowing the coastline to reclaim itself over time.

Fellow education Katie Garchar sorting the stinky 1976 materialsFellow education Katie Garchar sorting the stinky 1976 materialsThe Davis Street Transfer Station is an example of land reuse. Now, a Materials Recovery Facility, one of the largest of its kind on the West Coast, is sorting up to 700,000 lbs. of recyclables every day, in hopes that we will not have to waste anymore of our natural resources. Thousands of those aluminum cans still buried in our landfills will take 500 years to break down.  Rebecca Jewell, Recycling Program Manager Waste Management (Davis St.) writes, "Now our folks have the opportunity to actually demonstrate that materials buried 34 years ago are still relatively pristine." The materials will be preserved for display by WM and for use at the iRecycle@School Education Center.

Grass clippings from 1976Grass clippings from 1976Landfills tell us a lot about ourselves and are full of fond memories. Tim, a driver for Waste Management here at Davis St. since 1980, still remembers when it used to be a landfill. The materials will continue to be there for years to come however, and will also serve as a reminder of how we value the places where we live, work, and play.

Solar Addition at Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station

By Andrew SloanBy Andrew SloanBLT Enterprises is the owner and operator of the Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station. Besides having received notable awards for their safety and clean operations, this is now the first transfer station in Alameda County that runs most of the facility on solar power. The facility has a total of 1,700 panels that span over half its 40,000 sq ft. roof, as well as a new car port covered in panels in the front parking lot. The energy generated from the panels accommodates for 90% of the facility's energy usage. In considering the type of machinery at the Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station, such as their heavy-duty balers, this is a remarkable achievement.

There are two monitors, one inside the reception area and the other in the Education Center, that displays real-time data of the solar power generated hourly, daily, and monthly, with graphs that even our fourth grade students can understand. In just two months, BLT has already prevented over 42,000 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, and that number increases by the hour!

And that's not all! BLT is in the process of replacing its existing high energy metal halide lamps in their warehouse with low energy fluorescent bulbs. These new lamps will reduce the energy demand for lighting by more than 50%. BLT pays close attention to first reducing energy where possible in order to make their renewable energy most efficient.

Inspiring 4Rs Action through the (5) Senses

By Jeannie PhamBy Jeannie Pham A highlight of our tour for most student visitors is when they get to see the huge pile of garbage that they helped generate. Dropped off in the warehouse by garbage trucks, the spectator experience is unforgettable.

The ground-shaking noise of a bulldozer shoving the garbage into the belly of a transfer truck below, the stench, and the sight of unclaimed treasures – a suitcase, teddy bear, or baby booster seat – are the most tangible and memorable experience students take away because it engages their senses. The smell of garbage reinforces that methane is released when people throw away organic matter into their trash cans. The sight of cast-off resources reminds them that no one sorts through their garbage, that their hands are the last to touch something once it is thrown into a garbage can.

"Why do people care about creating less garbage?" we ask students. "So that the Earth will not have so much litter," writes one student. "Because landfills waste a lot of space," writes another. Aside from one of my favorite pieces of feedback, "I want to work here [as an Educator] someday!" students also write us about ways they will continue to practice the 4R's:

  • Buy less. Use less.
  • Buy in bulk.
  • Think before you use or buy something.
  • Don't buy bottled water; buy less junk food.
  • Donate your old clothes that don't fit you anymore.
  • "I'd use less stuff to save money."

Who Said the 4Rs Are Just For Kids?

The students aren't the only ones learning about the 4R's on the field trips to the Ed Center.  It's surprising how many of the questions throughout the field trips come fromBy Katie GarcharBy Katie Garchar the chaperones.

Chaperones get most involved when I'm teaching at the Rot or compost station. After showing a short video on how the decomposition process - thanks to the FBI (fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates), and we talk about how anything that was once alive can go into the green bin, including food scraps and yard waste.  Then, we do a quiz with the students where we hold up a picture and they have to tell us whether or not the item can go into the green bin. For example, we have pictures of food, yard waste, plastics, paper napkins and cups, and food soiled cardboard. The chaperones always participate in this activity and their faces are priceless when they realize food-soaked paper products, like napkins, paper towels, paper plates, paper coffee cups, and even greasy pizza boxes can go into the green bins.

Something else that the chaperones are surprised to learn is the best way to recycle plastic grocery bags. A lot of people are under the impression that you can put them into your recycle bin. However, when you do that, the bags get pulled out by hand-sorters at the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) and sent to the landfill because they wrap around the machines and harm them. Instead, the best way is to make a bag of bags and take them back your local grocery store for them to send directly to a plastic bag remanufacturer. Some cities do offer "bag of bag" services for curbside pick -up, though it's still best to take them back to where you shop.

At the end of each tour we give the chaperones a survey to fill out asking them general questions such as: what were your waste disposal practices before the field trip and what are your plans for implementing the 4R's afterwards? In almost all occasions, chaperones pledge to do a better job of recycling and composting than before.  We've even had a few requests from chaperones for us to visit schools and give presentations to just the teachers and parents.

It's a great feeling when the students and parents are both involved and invested in the 4R's and leave our field trip wanting to make a difference in their waste practices at home, school or work.

The One Stop Fremont Transfer and Recycling Station

Although I have been a Fremont resident for the past 10 years, I am still discovering what this part of the East Bay has to offer. It’s great to have access to the Fremont Transfer & Recycling Station as my hub for many different types of waste.

By Renee' ManingdingBy Renee' ManingdingFor a fee, I can drop off excess household trash and yard waste. At no cost, Alameda County residents can also bring in their electronic waste and household hazardous waste (HHW). Afterwards, I like to visit the Reuse Area where I might find used paints, varnish, etc. for free. Its HHW drop-off is one of four facilities in Alameda County where I can bring products such as motor oil, household batteries, CFL light bulbs, garden products such as pesticides, and also, more recently, expired medication and sharps from home. The only challenge for me in bringing material to drop off at HHW was backing up my car into the parking space, but that could just be me.

There is one last material collected for recycling here – mattresses.· Inside a truck gets filled floppy mattresses and old box springs that resemble multi-colored pancake stacks and that will be trucked off to a mattress recycling factory or, if they’re in good condition, donated for reuse. Although the curbside recycling program does not collect mattresses or other bulky items, that doesn’t mean they can’t be recycled. Imagine all the different materials that go into a mattress! The textiles and cotton are bundled and sold in the textile market, the metal springs are sold to scrap metal dealers, the wood is chipped for mulch or fuel, and the polyurethane foam can also be recycled. ·

It is always a delight when the students and their parents who attend a field trip to the Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station through the irecycle@school program discover that most items can be recycled- it’s just a matter of knowing when and where to bring them!

For more information about Fremont Recycling & Transfer Station:

 How do I recycle this? Find out using the Recycling Guide at 

Dishwasher Blues

By Andrew SloanBy Andrew SloanWhen I tell people what I do for a living, they often wonder how I came to work in the field of garbage. Is it because I dumpster dived through college? Is it because my friend had the master key to all the dumpsters in Sonoma County? They are surprised to hear that I first got involved with the issue of waste diversion through my work at Sonoma State University's cafeteria. As a dishwasher, you have the painstaking job of scraping off mountains of uneaten food from students' plates whose eyes are obviously bigger than their mouths. After doing this for 3 years, I got angry and wanted to find a way to divert all that food waste from the landfill. Through my liberal studies class, "Garbage," I took on the project of working with the dining services director to implement an organics recycling program.

Through this project, I had made many valuable contacts in the waste field and found an employment opportunity with a local hauler as a Recycling Coordinator upon graduating. My initial enthusiasm in waste reduction transformed into working with local businesses, schools, and housing complexes all over Sonoma County. I learned the ins and outs of garbage and recycling from the people that know best – the hauler. I found myself going on routes with drivers at 3:30 in the morning, or looking through maggot-infested trash cans with flashlights to check for contamination (my dumpster diving skills came in handy after all!)

Upon my move to the East Bay in early 2010, I received an internship with the City of Hayward, again as a Recycling Coordinator, and learned about garbage and recycling from a city standpoint (being on the other side of a franchise agreement).

Now I am excited to be working in recycling education and teaching students all over Alameda County about the 4R's; is a wonderful home for me.