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One lunch period brings in 143 pounds of garbage

Echo Shaw students were very engaged in the presentation and were more than willing to participate in activities. Forest Grove Sustainability Commission member Elaine Cole asked kids who wanted to come up and take a closer look at her worm composting bins. After seeing how much Echo Shaw Elementary School students threw away during lunch, third-grader Diego Villanueva is scared his community will someday look like Wall-E’s world. “It will be all messy,” he said with a furrowed brow.

Villanueva was referring to the 2008 animated movie about a robot — Wall-E — who cleans up a future abandoned, waste-covered Earth.

The Reduce and Recycle Lunch Audit conducted at Echo Shaw in Cornelius last Wednesday is all the students have been able to talk about, said third-grade teacher Melissa Vega-Smith. “They have made real-life connections and understand more clearly how they can make a difference in their home, at school and in their community.”

Washington County staff members Sanne Stienstra and Alex Bertolucci along with Forest Grove Sustainability Commission member Elaine Cole asked students to sort their lunch waste into five separate barrels: food, liquid, trash, recycling and milk cartons. Then they weighed all of the waste in front of the children.

Echo Shaw students’ lunchtime trash — mostly napkins — weighed in at nearly one-and-a-half pounds. Their recycling came in at .41 pounds, mostly made up of Lunchables containers and juice bottles. There were three trash bags full of discarded milk cartons that weighed 13.5 pounds. There were also 45.7 pounds of thrown-away food and 82.2 pounds of wasted milk. That’s a total of 143.3 pounds for one lunch period.

“Whoas” and “oohs” and “aaahs” filled the space as kids saw all their waste in one place. NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Kids lined up outside at Echo Shaw Elementary School in Cornelius as took on the more than a dozen roles played in getting ketchup to the store, including farmer, food scientist and truck driver.

“That’s gross,” one child said. “I ate all my pizza,” said another, who was then congratulated by his peer.

“I didn’t think there was going to be that much milk,” third-grader Evan Trejo-Olvera said in disbelief.

Stienstra and Bertolucci encouraged students to take only what they think they can eat because not only does food make kids strong, they said, but wasted food sits in landfills and produces methane gas when it rots. They also brought about a dozen kids to the front of the group to illustrate how many people and resources it takes to get one product, ketchup for example, to their lunch room.

“I can’t believe there was more liquid than anything else,” said third-grader Santana Silva. “I’m going to teach my little sister to recycle.”

“You can wash and reuse the plastic forks you get at Panda Express,” said Villanueva. Cole poured out one of the buckets of wasted milk into a larger bin, much to the surprise and disgust of the third graders.

Students at Echo Shaw are learning about recycling along with the amped-up efforts from the lunchroom staff to label recycling bins clearly and get administrative support for increased recycling efforts. They’ve also been learning about reusing items in the classroom, Vega-Smith said.

Next year, the older students will compost their food waste and use the final product on a school garden.

“This is a good opportunity for a school to address waste and make changes,” Stienstra said.

The Echo Shaw cafeteria staff members are already conscientious about minimizing packaging and food waste. They buy bulk carrots, not individually packaged ones. They put the carrots out in shallow trays as part of the salad bar and refill them if needed instead of filling deep trays and throwing out carrots they don’t use.

Echo Shaw students also eat with reusable trays and silverware, as opposed to disposable plates and plastic forks like students do at Forest Grove High School.

Currently, Echo Shaw does not recycle milk cartons because they have to be washed. Stienstra and Bertolucci offered to come up with a convenient system like one the Hillsboro School District uses. They’ve also met with the Forest Grove School District’s food services provider Sodexo to come up with

less wasteful food serving and packaging solutions. Changes at the district level would be best, Stienstra said.

Both Stienstra and Bertolucci said they were impressed with the efforts Echo Shaw staff members are already making. “It’s awesome that they’re leading the charge,” Stienstra said.