By Karen O’Brien
How much garbage does one school cafeteria generate each day? At P.S. 166, the Richard Rodgers School of the Arts and Technology on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, elementary school children and school staff have teamed up to reduce their cafeteria garbage from 12 bags per day to just one! With the assistance of school staff and student monitors, everyone from kindergarteners through fifth graders separate liquid, compost, recyclables and garbage from their breakfast and lunch. The school has also switched to biodegradable bagasse trays, as an alternative to Styrofoam. P.S. 166 participated in a 2012 composting pilot project with seven other local schools in Manhattan District 3, reducing the volume of cafeteria waste by 85%, and diverting food waste from landfills each day.
Under the leadership of the Green and Wellness Committee, and with the cooperation of teachers and custodial staff, P.S. 166 has implemented environmentally sustainable practices throughout the school. Each green program is an excellent opportunity to engage students, teachers, school staff and parents, learning about recycling, pollution prevention, climate change and sustainable living. Waste reduction and recycling programs at the school include composting food, and recycling bottle caps, electronics, and textiles.
P.S. 166 participates in the Green Cup Energy Conservation Challenge each year, challenging . students to reduce their energy consumption by turning off lights and unplugging appliances in the class room. Each class room is assigned two “Climate Captains,” who assume a leadership role ensuring the school does its best to conserve electricity and reduce greenhouse gases.
P.S. 166 won the Green Cup Challenge in 2010 with a reduction in electricity useage over a six month period of 17.75%. In subsequent years, P.S. 166 has reduced energy consumption even more, but as a mark of progress, this was not enough to take the Cup! In 2011, PS 166 won 4th place and a $10,000 prize for reducing its electricity consumption by 23.3%, saving $2,403 on their electric bill in one month, and prevented 19,815 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the environment. Other schools are catching on, making the competition fierce for this year’s Green Cup challenge! For more information about greening schools, check out greenschoolsny.com and P.S. 166’s Green page.
About the author: Karen O’Brien is an Environmental Engineer in the Clean Water Division of EPA Region 2. She holds Master and Bachelor of Engineering degrees from the Cooper Union in New York City, and is a licensed Professional Engineer. At EPA, Karen works to regulate discharges of wastewater under the Clean Water Act, and has performed temporary assignments in the fields of climate change, pollution prevention, and air quality monitoring. Karen has three children, two of whom attend P.S. 166!