On Friday, February 1, Oakland Unified School District hosted its 4th annual Green Gloves Symposium to honor the sustainability efforts of custodians and nutrition services workers.
The event featured presentations and panel discussions highlighting the district's efforts to advance more environmentally friendly practices. Students from Oakland High School shared a presentation describing their efforts to study and eliminate litter and details about their student-run recycling program.
Across the district, system-wide changes have altered the composition of the waste stream. Styrofoam trays have been replaced with compostable cardboard at nearly every school while two sites prepare to re-introduce washable/reusable food trays.
"Two sites have installed commercial dishwashers to keep the trays clean," explains Nancy Deming, OUSD's sustainability coordinator. "Nutrition services found boxes of trays tucked away in storage- so this is a 'back to the future' moment for us."
Schools have also started to eliminate "spork packets" in favor of utensil dispensers. The plastic wrap associated with the spork packets led to contamination of compostable wastes and slowed sorting lines in the lunch room. With individual dispensers, students can take only what they need.
The changes in cafeteria purchasing align with broader changes in how the district serves food to children. Jennifer LaBarre, Director of Oakland Unified Nutrition Services, outlined the vision for the elimination of pre-packaged food and a return to scratch-cooking kitchens as well as an expansion of the district's meal program to include breakfast and dinner services at many sites.
LaBarre aims to eliminate over 80% of the waste associated with food packaging and distribution.
A panel discussion offered tips for engaging students in the effort and best practices for staff interested in improving waste diversion. Concerns were also surfaced about the changing nature of the work, challenges with new duties and expectations, and issues regarding compensation for efforts that help save the district money.
Schools, custodians and cafeteria staff were honored with framed certificates for their efforts while top schools collected bonus checks split between custodians, principals and student groups.
The symposium concluded with a lunch catered by nutrition services. Durable, reusable utensils, sustainbly harvested food, and fair trade coffee and tea set the table for a delicious meal. One participant noted the joy of entering a school cafeteria that smells like home cooking. Of course, diversion stations were provided to capture recyclables, compostables, and other divertable material.
OUSD's Green Gloves in the News:
Waste Age - Kid Gloves: Food Waste Composting in Oakland Schools (Jan. 9, 2013)
OaklandLocal – OakTown Gardens: Reducing Waste to 'Green' Lincoln Elementary (Oct. 30, 2012)
Reset San Francisco – Look To Your Neighbor, SF: Cafeteria Composting Helps Oakland Students Go Green (Oct. 12, 2012)
OaklandNorth – Oakland Students Learn Composting in Cafeterias (Sept. 26, 2012)
KGO-TV (ABC7) – Students in East Oakland Earning A’s in Going Green (Sept. 25, 2012) VIDEO
KTVU-TV (FOX2) – Oakland Unified School District’s Green Gloves Program (Sept. 25, 2012) VIDEO
California Schools Magazine – Class Act: Green Gloves – Good for Environment, Bottom Line (Fall 2012)
Oakland Business Reviews – KGO-TV Features OUSD Green Gloves Program (October 2012) (Go to page 11 or read story below)
KQED Radio News Clip (October 8, 2012)