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Oakland High Launches Cafeteria Waste Diversion

Waste stations at Oakland HighWaste stations at Oakland HighAfter a waste audit conducted by Oakland High's Environmental Science Academy (ESA) revealed that 87% of lunch time waste in the trash could have been composted or recycled, students took action.

ESA's Waste Audit Data

Working with teachers, custodians and staff from Oakland Unified School District, ESA students helped design and launch a lunch time waste reduction campaign. Building on the district's prior successes in cafeteria waste diversion, students helped set up sorting stations to collect food scraps, recyclables, compostable food trays, and uneaten food.

Oakland High School serves over 1700 students on a closed campus during one lunch period, so outreach and preparation were keys to a successful program launch.

ESA students help monitor the stationsESA students help monitor the stations

Students from the ESA provided outreach and awareness by creating posters and through peer to peer education. The bulk of the work was led by 10 seniors in ESA with senior porjects focused on waste reduction. In addition to leading the design and outreach campaign, they also volunteered to monitor the bins to help make sure other students were using them correctly.

On April 22, 2013, Earth Day, Oakland High School launched its program. At first, custodians were concerned that students wouldn't use the new stations, but ESA teacher Katie Noonan reports that the first day was a huge success, "[It] was so successful that the custodians turned the extra landfill cans over so they wouldn't be available. At the same time I visited each table and invited students to try out our new recycling station. Since there was no obvious alternative, they did it. This resulted in many fewer trays being abandoned on the lunch tables.  The custodians were happy, too."

After just two days, the stations had already diverted over 32 pounds of recyclable bottles and cans and over 160 pounds of compostable trays and food scraps .

Indeed, by the end of the week, the extra trash cans were removed from the cafeteria and custodial staff reported that the students were doing a great job cleaning tables now that the new sorting stations are in place.

On Friday, ESA students organized a courtyard rally to celebrate their successes and encourage others to get involved by singing a rousing rendition of Build a Better Future.

Oakland High's cafeteria features other innovations including a hydration station to refill water bottles. The school also participates in OUSD's initaitve featuring "California Food for California Kids" designed to improve the quality of meals while also reducing environmental impacts associated with transportation.

Congratulations to Oakland High and the Environmental Service Academy!