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Mission San Jose Waste Audit

"Now that we've looked through our school's trash, we'll think twice before we throw it away." ~ 9th grade student, Mission San Jose High

Waste Audit DataWaste Audit DataOn Wednesday, October 26, 2011, students in Cate Ruebling's 9th Grade Health class at Mission San Jose High School worked with EarthTeam to conduct an audit of the school's lunchtime waste.  Students donned aprons, gloves, and safety goggles to sort through over a dozen bags of trash from the cafeteria and courtyard where students eat.  The activity was part of Mission's larger goal to increase recycling and divert waste from the landfill.

With support from Jose Luis Martinez and Jamilah Bradshaw from EarthTeam, students quickly sorted the bags of trash into different categories in order to better understand the consumption and disposal habits of Mission's students.  The class found large amounts of fast food packaging and "one-use" disposable items.  The largest category by weight was food scraps and food soiled paper, but the students also found plenty of recyclable bottles and cans in the trash as well.  "We eat like pigs," noted one student.

Many students were disappointed to find uneaten, unopened food in the trash.  "This stuff is perfectly good- I don't know why people are throwing it out- They should only take what they need instead of throwing it away."

The trash held many surprises- some were interesting, some were disgusting.  One student discovered a miniature container for McDonald's French fries- unanimously described as "Cute!"  Another group of students found a bag of trash growing a large colony of maggots on a donut box.  Not missing a chance to teach a bit of biology, Ruebling pointed out that maggots take a few days to hatch, so this bag of trash must have been sitting out in the courtyard for some time.  Further sleuthing by the students confirmed that the bag had not been cleared from the prior week's Spirit Week activities.

After all the waste was sorted, Martinez and Bradshaw facilitated a conversation back in the classroom to discuss what students had found and what they might do to make a difference in the future.  Students were alarmed by how much of the garbage was "designed for the dump" and reflected on planned and perceived obsolescence for many of the disposable one-use items in the trash.

Students were most concerned by how much food waste was in the trash and offered the following suggestions to minimize food waste in the future:

  1. Eat your food!
  2. Save it for later.
  3. Bring less food
  4. Compost it in your yard
  5. Share your food with others
  6. Bring stuff you'll actually eat

Teachers and students at Mission plan to use the data from the waste audit to design systems and activities to reduce waste throughout the year.

"Now that we've looked through our school's trash, we'll think twice before we throw it away."