On March 17th, St Patricks Day, Montera MS became the first public middle school in Oakland to roll out a brand new food scrap recycling program in their cafeteria. The program was the result of months of planning; hard data from three EarthTeam waste audits; a solid collaboration between Waste Management, Jeannie Kohl's Leadership class, SLWRP teachers, parents, and custodial staff; and hard work involving much trash sorting, student-made presentations, and glitter paint (for posters). One week into the new program, EarthTeam's Waste Action Team decided to check-in on the system and sleuth around, armed with a camera, a list of interview questions, and their own curiosity.
What follows is the transcription of several conversations the Waste Action Team had with unsuspecting lunch eaters and enthusiastic bin monitors.
Autumn - lunch eater, 7th grader
EarthTeam: "Hello! Sorry to interrupt your lunch, but I was hoping to ask you a couple of quick questions about Montera's new food scrap recycling program."
Autumn: "Food scrap what?"
ET: "Food scrap recycling! The new green bins."
Autumn: "Oh. I thought those were for trash?"
ET: "Nope - just food scraps! To turn 'em into compost."
Autumn: "Oh cool. I didn't know we had that here."
ET: "It just started, like a week ago. Do you have a green bin at home?"
ET: "So you know all about compost?"
Autumn: "Yeah. The food is turned into dirt."
ET: "Awesome! Well, if you didn't realize there was food scrap recycling here - did you notice the bin monitors?"
Autumn: "Kinda. Sometimes the bins have monitors, sometimes they don't."
ET: "Would you ever volunteer to be one of those bin monitors?"
Autumn: "Yeah, totally!" (smiles)
ET: "Great! We're trying to help set up an official monitor schedule, so stay tuned."
Max - bin monitor, 8th grader
ET: "Hi there, do you mind if I ask you a couple of quick questions about your monitoring?"
Max: "Sure?" (looks around)
ET: "Thanks! Have you been volunteering all week?"
Max: "No, this is my first time."
ET: "Who trained you?"
Max: "A friend from Leadership."
ET: "Do you have a green bin at home?"
Max: "Yeah, so I also sort there."
ET: "May I ask why you're doing this - for community service?"
Max: "Nah, out of the kindness of my heart!" (laughs)
ET: "Sweet! Well thank you for doing this, I know that Leadership needs all the help it can get! What do you think of the advertising for the new system thus far?"
Max: "Well, people still aren't getting the message. Not everyone saw the PowerPoint Leadership did - maybe they could do a whole assembly? That way everyone would definitely know about this."
ET: "Great idea! It's also just been a week, so sometimes things take awhile to settle in. If you were to assign a grade for the monitors, and a grade for Montera students, how would you say everyone's doing?"
Max: " 'A' for monitors, maybe a 'B' for students."
Group of 3 girls - lunch eaters, 8th graders
ET: "Hello, hello! May I sit with all of you, and ask a few quick questions about Montera's new food scrap recycling system?"
ET: "So, who here knew that Montera had a new food scrap recycling program?"
Girls #1 and #2: "We saw Leadership's PowerPoint."
Girl #3: "We have a food scrap system?"
ET: "Yeah, those are the new green bins, with the new monitors."
Girl #3: "Oh, that!"
Girl #1: "Yeah, the monitors are good, because I was confused at first about where to put things."
ET: "Do you have green bins at home?"
Girl #2: "I think most people here do."
ET: "Ah. Well, do you think any of you would be willing to volunteer, and be monitors?"
Girl #1:"I'd be embarrassed." (shakes head)
Girl #2: "The monitors are doing a really good job though!"
Group of 4 guys - lunch eaters, 8th graders
ET: "Hello! I'm hoping I can quickly ask you some super quick questions about Montera's brand new food scrap recycling program."
ET: "Excellent! For starters: did all of you know that Montera has a new food scrap system?"
Group: "Yes!" (students are either in Leadership, or saw the PowerPoint).
ET: "Have any of you been monitors yet?"
Guy #1: "Yeah, I did. It was fun - I'd do it again."
ET: "Great! Well, what about the rest of you - would you volunteer?"
Guy #2: "I would. It's my last year here, so it'd be nice to do some good before I graduate."
ET: "Nice. Well, how do you think things are going?"
Guy #3: "It's going well... it'd be good to improve awareness, if not everyone knows what's going on."
Guy #2: "Yeah, and people don't always pay attention to the monitors."
ET: "Hmmm, good to know. Well, my last question for you: do you have green bins at home?"
From all of these conversations, and a couple more informal ones, the Waste Action Team has concluded that Montera is doing an excellent job with its brand new system! Starting food scrap recycling at a big middle school, and well into the new year, is no easy feat, but everyone we spoke to was overwhelmingly positive - whether about Leadership's PowerPoint presentations, the monitors, the supportive custodial staff, or the the overall idea of this new program (if the student wasn't fully aware it was already in place). Many students also appeared to be interested in serving a shift as a monitor themselves - which is wonderful news, considering Montera's Green Team will be sitting down with the Waste Action Team next week to figure out how to set up a fully sustainable monitoring system. As of now, Leadership students, and other students involved in the Service-Learning Waste Reduction Project (SLWRP), have been doing the lion's share of all of the volunteer shifts. Ideally, this responsibility would be shifted away from their shoulders, and the shoulders of Green Team teachers, to the rest of the school as well. Collective work is sustainable work, and EarthTeam is eager to continue supporting Montera however it can. For now, though, FANTASTIC work! Montera is truly a model for other middle schools trying to "go green" :)