Multicultural Week is one of Mission San Jose High School's largest events, and until this year, one of the most wasteful. The week-long celebration of the school's diverse cultural heritage includes daily lunch-time food sales by student clubs who use the event to raise funds while also bringing unique cuisines to campus.
This year, the student government's Green Commissioner worked with Multicultural Week committee officers to implement a range of sustainability efforts to reduce waste and improve recycling. Efforts include: a polystyrene (Styrofoam) ban, waste diversion stations with recycling and compost options, and separate waste plans for vendors and participants at the event.
According to Multicultural Week committee members Wayland, Dennis and Eamon, the key to outreach and compliance with the new measures was drafting an updated Multicultural Week Contract and Guidelines. The contract must be signed by each participating club to gain access to the event and the opportunity to participate in food sales for fundraising. In the past, the contract detailed food safety requirements, space allocations, and rules for handling money. This year, the contact includes language mandating practices to promote a more sustainable event.
Each club is required to use a dedicated waste handling system for any discards they generate. Typically, clubs will need to dispose of empty aluminum food service trays, plastic wrap, large tin cans (nachos), and gallon jugs (juice, milk, etc). The contract specifies that, "Organizations may not use the trashcans on campus. Trash and recycling bags will be provided for every two organizations," this ensures that clubs don't overwhelm the waste stations for the event's participants and also allows organizers to monitor the diversion of recyclables.
The contract also calls for the elimination of certain wastes entirely; specifying that the: "Distribution of Styrofoam materials and plastic bags is strictly prohibited." This helps to ensure that all plates and cups are compostable or recyclable allowing for a cleaner waste stream at the diversion stations.
Additionally, clubs agree to keep their areas clear of litter and clean up after each day's events.
The contract is not without teeth. Clubs are subject to a $100 fine for each violation, the confiscation of illicit materials, and the possibility of being banned from future Multicultural week events.
One club caught distributing food on Styrofoam plates at this year's event tried to dodge responsibility, claiming that they didn't know about the new rules. Waylan, Dennis, and Eamon were not swayed by the club's lack of planning. Citing a clause in the contract which states: "As the president, head, or chief leader representing my organization, I agree to all the policies listed above. I understand the consequences associated with the actions or inactions in the event that any person associated with my organization fails to follow these guidelines. I will also make sure that those associated with my organization understand the terms of this contract," they promptly confiscated the Styrofoam plates, effectively ending the club's food sales for the day and leaving them with unsold inventory.
In addition to the elements required in the contract, student government worked to support positive behaviors by event participants. They conducted an outreach and awareness campaign asking participants to bring their own durable/reusable utensils and plates from home. Student government provided each vendor with cookies to distribute to anyone who brought their own utensils. Although a substantial number of students brought their own utensils on the first day, participation seemed to drop as organizers ran out of cookies.
Teacher Jeff Evans praised the efforts of the students, "I am glad to see all the improvements Leadership has undertaken this year. This is the first year Leadership has had a designated "Green Team," and for such a new group to have such a say in how our school's larger event is carried out shows the respect it has gained over the year. I hope to continue working with them next year to make Mission a model school for waste reduction."
Congratulations to the Mission San Jose student organizers for their efforts to organize a more environmentally sustainable event!