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Castlemont Launches Cafeteria Waste Diversion

Interns monitor waste stations at CastlemontInterns monitor waste stations at CastlemontWith support from EarthTeam, students in Castlemont High School's Sustainable Urban Design Academy (SUDA) Works program designed and launched a cafeteria waste diversion program in the first week of November, 2013. SUDA Works employs students in paid internships focused on green job skills and career awareness.

The effort, led by five seniors, builds on prior work at Castlemont examining food systems and best practices in waste reduction. Students conducted a waste audit which revealed that 75% of the material in the cafeteria trash could be composted or recycled. Using that data, the seniors developed a plan to set up monitored waste stations in the cafeteria for capturing food scraps and recyclable material.

The system features bins for food scraps and food soiled paper, recycling, and trash. Each lunch period, two of the interns monitor the stations to help educate their peers about the proper sorting and disposal of lunch waste.

Maggie Vega praises her peers' effortsMaggie Vega praises her peers' efforts"We've found that a positive, encouraging message works best," explains intern Maggie Vega. "Nobody wants to hear that they are doing something wrong, so we cheer on their efforts while also helping them sort the materials correctly."

Juan Quintero says he's motivated to help the environment and thinks this is a great system. "We don't sort the waste for them, we want them to learn how to do it on their own, so we point to the different bins and explain where stuff goes."

The group spent about two weeks working with EarthTeam and school staff to gather supplies and plan for a phased roll-out of the system focusing on a different material each day of the first week:

  • Monday: Trays and Paper plates
  • Tuesday: Cups and Napkins
  • Wednesday: Food wrappers (landfill)
  • Thursday:  Plastic Utilities(do NOT drop in compost on accident)
  • Friday: Food Scraps

They discovered, however, that most of their peers on the 500 student campus were actually eager to correctly sort all materials from the first day, so they focused on fine tuning the system. Quintero explains that they moved the stations away from the exit of the cafeteria because its proximity to the salad bar contributed to crowds and stress.

Vega has been encouraged by the early success of the program. "When I first got here 4 years ago, people didn't care- they didn't treat it like home. This helps keep the campus clean and reminds everybody they have a responsibility to make this a place they want to be."

Intern Leah Silva sees far reaching benefits to the campus system. In addition to the environmental savings on campus, Silva explains, "I've been working with my family on this, too now. We're recycling and starting to work on food scraps." Silva, a senior who hopes to study veterinary medicine in college, sees connections between her environmental efforts and her career goals. "This all connects," she explains, "these wrappers can harm animals if we don't take care of them properly."

Properly sorted food scrapsProperly sorted food scrapsOnly a small amount of trash remains at the end of lunchOnly a small amount of trash remains at the end of lunch

By the end of lunch on Friday at the end of the first week, the new system seemed to be working well. A quick glance at the bins revealed almost no cross-contamination of trash in the recycling or compost bins. Similarly, nearly zero compostable or recyclable materials were in the trash at the end of lunch- the only exception being plastic bags with trace amounts of tortilla chip crumbs which the station monitors dutifully collected and emptied into the compost.

The school's lunchtime custodian, Lincoln Lendberg, is encouraged by the student's efforts, " I think this can happen and it's worth it." Adding that he noticed the cafeteria is cleaner at the end of lunch as students are taking more responsibility for clearing their tables.

Leah, Maggie and Juan take pride in their workLeah, Maggie and Juan take pride in their work

The diversion stations build on prior work that examined the waste stream on campus resulting in system-wide changes. With the help of Nancy Deming from Oakland Unified School District, the school eliminated plastic wrapped "spork packets" in favor of utensil dispensers which allow students to take only what they need. The school also installed water jugs and provides paper cups to eliminate prior reliance on plastic water bottles.

Esmerelda Argueta and Jennifer Almendarez - EarthTeam November 2013 Students of the Month

~Republished from EarthTeam ~

Jennifer and EsmereldaJennifer and EsmereldaEsmeralda Argueta & Jennifer Almendarez are the EarthTeam Students of the Month for November 2013. Esmeralda & Jennifer are both seniors at Castlemont High School in Oakland, hospital CA. They are part of a yearlong internship with EarthTeam called the "EnviroKnights" that are focused on waste reduction on their campus.

They, along with their other EnviroKnights, have been conducting daily waste monitoring in their cafeteria in an effort to educate their peers on waste reduction. In addition, the EnviroKnights have recently been leading waste audits to other classes on campus to further waste education on campus.

In November the EnviroKnights led two freshman classes through a waste audit and EarthTeam staff was lucky enough to attend and help out while watching these leaders in action. Keep up with the Enviro Knights on Instagram at@earthteamcastlemonths

We are inspired by the work and wisdom of these two young women and look forward to seeing their work and the work of their peers as the year progresses. Keep up the great work ladies!


Myra Avalos, EarthTeam Student of the Month

EarthTeamEarthTeamEarthTeam's Student of the Month for May 2013 is Maya Avalos, a freshman student in the Sustainable Urban Development Academy (SUDA) at Castlemont High school.

As a SUDA student, Maya is taught in depth curriculum regarding environmental topics. EarthTeam was first introduced to Mayra in Michelle Espino's class who participated in the Waste Action Project.

Mayra was one of the student volunteers during the waste audits and showed herself as a leader that day. Mayra was very active during the action planning phase and contributed to the over all concept of her class's action plan. Mayra is currently decorating recycle bins and distributing them to classrooms to promote in-class recycling on her campus.

This semester Mayra reappeared in Mitch Singsheim's class and participated in another EarthTeam program, the Transportation Action Project. During the action planning portion of the program Mayra again emerged as a leader with the experience she gained during the Waste Action Project.

Mayra worked closely with her group to promote collaborative thinking around reducing CO2 through transportation habits. Mayra personally reduced her CO2 emissions and helped her class collectively reduce 15 pounds of CO2 in one week!

EarthTeam hopes to see Mayra next year at Castlemont High and to see what her leadership brings to the community for the 2013-2014 school year. Congratulations Mayra and keep it up!

Republished from EarthTeam

Castlemont Campus Tour

Casltemont Teacher, Tim BremnerCasltemont Teacher, Tim BremnerOn February 6, more than 35 teachers and students from schools across Alameda County convened at Castlemont High School in East Oakland to learn more about the school's innovative approaches to environmental education.

Castlemont teacher Tim Bremner led an energetic tour of the campus while describing his vision for student engagement and leadership development through Castlemont's Sustainable Urban Design Academy (SUDA).

Cafeteria Waste StationCafeteria Waste StationThe tour started in the school cafeteria where Bremner was joined by OUSD's Nancy Deming. Together, they described efforts taking place across the district, and at Castlemont in particular to improve nutrition and food quality while also reducing waste.

OUSD is vigorously pursuing a strategy of returning to "cooking kitchens" where staff cook from scratch, rather than merely heating food. Kitchen galleys are equipped with recycling and food scrap bins to divert as much waste as possible.

Utensil DispenserUtensil DispenserSUDA students have worked with OUSD Nutrition Services to occasionally prepare recipies developed by students. "Our students work understand and implement USDA school lunch guidelines in the meals they help prepare. The project helps them learn about nutrition, organic produce, food safety and more. So far, we've been able to do this once per year, but I'd like to expand it to once per month," explained Bremner.

In the cafeteria itself, Bremner described the results of a waste audit conducted in partnership with EarthTeam. The audit inspired the school to find grant funding to pay student waste station monitors and develop alternatives to much of the plastic waste found in the trash.

Hydration StationHydration StationAccording to Nancy Deming, "the district is moving away from single use plastic as much as possible. In the past every lunch was served with a "spork packet" whether a student needed it or not. Now, we've installed utensil and napkin dispensers so students can take only what they need. We've also eliminated bottled water and installed simple hydration stations with compostable paper cups." These changes helped the school eliminate the purchase and disposal of over 3,000 bottles of water per week.

After touring the cafeteria, Bremner led the group outside to the site of the weekly Farmer's Market. OUSD has a district-wide on-campus Farmer's Market program to bring nutrition to families at affordable prices. Castlemont hosts the only Market at a high school in the district. Two years ago, students led the effort to advocate for a Market at their school to meet nutrition needs while also providing a community building event.

Students have opportunities to work or volunteer in the market and have also worked with Rosa, the market manager to cook items like empanadas for sale at the market.

Garden Cold FramesGarden Cold Frames

Next, the group moved to the school's organic garden which features dozens of planter boxes, student constructed cold-frame mini-green houses, chickens, worm bins, 3 bin compost systems and a compost tumbler. "Through our SUDA Works program, we employ students in sustainability jobs after school. It builds on a previous program called Green Pioneers," explained Bremner. "Students helped build the sheds and chicken coops. They helped to install the rain catchment system. And they help design and redesign the garden every year."

The garden is also supported by a range of organizations and individuals who volunteer and work at the garden to keep it running year round.

According to Bremner, the school is interested in expanding beyond a "learning garden" to design and install a one-acre commercial farm. Bremner led the group across campus to view the space set aside for the farm and orchard. Castlemont has already secured the fruit trees for the orchard and hopes to plant them in the next couple of weeks.

Guns to GardensGuns to Gardens

The penultimate stop on the tour took the group to the shuttered JROTC shooting range. Through a program Bremner is calling Guns to Gardens, students have begun working with Kijani Grows to design and install an indoor aquaponic gardening system. Fish tank waste water will be filtered through planter beds to grow high-quality organic produce year round. The filtered water is returned to the fish tanks where Bremner hopes to grow catfish or tilapia for protein. "Our hope is that we will be able to contract with a restaurant to provide their produce. We probably won't be able to produce commercial quantities of fish, but that resource would be valuable to our students and their families."

The tour ended back in Bremner's classroom where he provided an overview of the courses in SUDA and answered questions about the program. From across the county, students and teachers alike found inspiration in Castlemont's vision and work to date. The school is actively seeking volunteers to help with its many programs.

EarthTeam Honors Michelle Espino as Teacher of the Month

Michelle EspinoMichelle EspinoRepublished from EarthTeam

Last month EarthTeam had the honor to work with Michelle Espino, an English instructor at Castlemont High as a part of the Waste Action Program. Ms. Espino attended UC Santa Cruz where she received a B.A. in Feminist Studies with an emphasis in culture, power & representation as well as law, politics & social change & an M.A. in Education.

EarthTeam staff came in contact with Ms. Espino while on the Castlemont campus and knew her passion for teaching would be a driving force in empowering her students to be leaders.

Even though her classes are small in size they are all full of passion. During the waste audit at Castlemont one of her classes, that was less than ten students, sorted through more waste than an average large class would. The students were overflowing with excitement and ideas for their campus as Ms. Espino encouraged them to be the change they want to see in their community, constantly reminding them that they are fully capable of making a difference.

Now these same students are spearheading a brand new recycling program on campus.

Right after having finished the Waste Action Project (WAP) classroom visits, Ms. Espino received a $1,000 grant to help their efforts.

Ms. Espino feels that "My classrooms involvement with WAP is part of a larger action project around fostering civic engagement opportunities for students. I want students to see themselves as active members of the community whose voice, opinions, and actions count equally as others & to recognize themselves as agents of change.

We have identified our school's absence of a recycling program as part of a larger community issue around lack of awareness & lack of action in terms of environmental justice. We feel that by taking this project on we can increase awareness around issues of sustainability that affect us not only at school, but within our local community as well.

We also just received a grant for $1000 to help us kick of our campaign. I think we will use the money to buy rollers so that we can collect the recycling easier, as well as paint so that we can decorate bins along with other supplies.

This week along with reading short stories students will be doing SORTS on the 4Rs & environmental vocab, designing 4R posters & doing a gallery walk on the trash vortex."