“The red bucket is for meat. White is for drinks. The green is for vegetables and everything else.”
Second grader Mariska Collier rattles the instructions off like she’s been doing it for years.
In reality, Collier and her classmates at Heritage Elementary School have only been recycling their food and doing their part to reduce their waste and better the environment since November.
“We are having fun doing this. It is a great experience for us,” she said. “If we are going to live on this planet, we need to help our planet.”
With the help of art teacher Garth Fout, second, third and fourth-grade students no longer just toss their food trays and their contents into trash cans after breakfast and lunch. Instead they take the little extra time to separate the food and dump it into the proper buckets.
“It’s easy to do and it’s good for the earth,” said third grader Isaiah Cunningham, who is quick to tell you just how much the extra work is helping.
Currently, the three grades combined have two bags of trash a day. Prior to starting the project in November, each grade level went through at least five bags a day, or 15 total.
Preschoolers, who eat lunch at the same time, also recycle their food. They require a little extra help from Fout but are catching on. First graders, who eat breakfast in their classrooms, are learning to put their waste into buckets kept in the rooms. Even end-of-day snacks get recycled now.
“It has evolved and now the kids really have it down,” said Principal Stacy Barker. “They are really into it, really excited about it.”
The food scraps and liquid go home with Fout, who uses the leftovers to feed the animals on his farm. He sometimes takes video of the animals getting fed so the students can understand exactly what is happening to the food.
“It is a win, win, win,” he said. “It is less work for the janitors, less money for trash bags, students are learning something and I take it home to feed my animals.”
This new “green school” initiative fits right into science and social studies curriculums that touch on things like renewable resources and recycling.
“We can take the lessons and relate them back to real-life circumstances,” Fout said. “So then when they get to the text in class, it makes sense.”
In the future, Fout wants to plant a garden at Heritage and start composting. He would really like to start producing vegetables that can be served in the school cafeteria.
He is even saving the lunch trays and other items from the school kitchen to use for an art project that will be in an upcoming district staff art exhibit.
While cognizant of the role she is playing in helping the environment, for Collier, it still often comes down to helping her teacher, and the animals.
“I like to help,” she said. “When you give love, they will give you love back.”