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Central Kitsap's Cougar Valley Elementary thinks green

Volunteer Kim Duff hands Hannah Burke, 12, some trash to organize at Cougar Valley Elementary School Feb. 10. A group of students led by Duff calculated a day’s worth of waste in order to help determine how to reduce trash at the school.  - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Volunteer Kim Duff hands Hannah Burke, 12, some trash to organize at Cougar Valley Elementary School Feb. 10. A group of students led by Duff calculated a day’s worth of waste in order to help determine how to reduce trash at the school.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

It smelled, but they couldn’t really complain since they were the cause of it. So they rolled up their sleeves, donned face masks and carried on.

“It’s nasty,” said Drake Ballou, a sixth grader at Cougar Valley Elementary School, contemplating a pile of the school’s trash. “But, it’ll help.”

The elementary school in Silverdale conducted a garbage audit last week to record how much waste the school produces and to pinpoint what improvements can be made.

“It’s one of those things that takes a village,” said Kim Duff, a parent volunteer that has taken the lead in the school’s program. “Kids are such great stewards of the environment. If you start young and educate them, they can take it to their families and continue on in high school with their good habits.”

Grades of Green, a nonprofit that helps schools across the country be more eco-friendly, promoted the project as a way for schools to take inventory of their environmental impact. The Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based group also certifies schools and Cougar Valley is the first school in Washington state to be certified by the nonprofit.

About 15 students, with the help of school staff and volunteers, collected and organized one day’s worth of waste Feb. 10. It was an eye-opening — and gross — experience, the students said. They sorted recyclable items and poured out unfinished cartons of chocolate milk into a bin.

“We’ll want to have less waste and help reduce the waste,” said sixth grader Shaun Bailes as he sorted through the trash with gloves on.

Cougar Valley became a Grades of Green member in the fall of 2010 with a focus on trash reduction, said Duff, of Seabeck. Last week’s trash audit was the first completed and the data will be reviewed and changes will be implemented to reduce waste, she added. A second trash audit to make comparisons will be completed either at the end of the current school year, or next school year.

The school day’s total waste weighed in at 238 pounds, Duff said, and that’s with one grade missing — fifth graders were not at school during lunch that day. Of the 238 pounds recorded, 89 pounds were food waste, 10.4 pounds were non-recyclable plastics and 16.5 pounds were non-recyclable waste.

“As far as food waste, that is very much in line with other schools,” said Vicki Bushnell, education and communication coordinator with the solid waste division of Kitsap County Public Works. “And if you multiply that by five, that is a significant waste.”

The audit not only lets the school reign in its waste, and possibly change its habits, it also gives kids a unique learning experience.

“It’s one thing to talk about it,” Cougar Valley Principal Chris Visserman said. “Children have a chance to physically see and touch the waste that is created.”

Not only schools, but residents should also think about reducing their waste at home by recycling everything possible, said Bushnell who attended the school’s trash audit. If people live in a burn ban area or in an urban growth area, they can sign up for food and yard waste recycling, she said. The cost is $8.15 a month for a 96-gallon cart that is picked up every other week, according to Kitsap Public Works.

Paper recycling is already in place at Cougar Valley and plastic bottles and aluminum are picked up separately as well. But more can be done, Duff said. The cafeteria — the source of the school’s food waste — is an area that needs improvement. Encouraging parents to pack lunches in reusable containers is an easy solution, she said. Using plastic utensils is wasteful and they plan to look into alternatives, she added. Last month Duff launched a company, Eat Your Greens, that sells reusable stainless steel lunch boxes as well as other reusable items.

The average person produces 4.5 pounds of garbage a day, Bushnell said. In a 2009 statewide study by the state Department of Ecology, food waste takes up about 18 percent of Washington landfills. This is an increase from a 2003 department study that found 15.7 percent as food waste.

“People have a tendency to waste food,” said Gretchen Newman, recycling data specialist with the department.

Although Cougar Valley is the only school in the district that is a Grades of Green member, there are other programs and nonprofits that monitor and support schools’ efforts to be sustainable and eco-friendly. Armin Jahr Elementary School in the Bremerton School District is participating in Washington Green Schools, a group that helps Washington schools be environmentally responsible with categories ranging from energy efficiency to toxics reduction.

While Grades of Green and Washington Green Schools focus more on the action students and teachers can take in their daily routines to be environmentally responsible, the U.S. Green Building Council has its LEED for Schools Rating System that focuses on building construction and design. Washington Youth Academy in Bremerton was LEED-certified in August of 2010, according to the Council.

Michael Barrett, an architect based in Portland, Ore. who is a volunteer with the Council, said schools usually will construct new buildings or conduct major renovations because it is more cost effective than remodeling a worn-down building. In the Central Kitsap School District, Jackson Park Elementary School will get a completely new building, made possible through the voter-approved capital projects levy. As the design process for the elementary school unfolds,

energy efficiency will be taken into account, said David Beil, spokesman for the district. In 2005 the Gov. Chris Gregoire approved a law requiring all new buildings and projects that receive state dollars to be built in accordance with green standards. These standards must follow either LEED certification or two other standards, the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol or the Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard for Housing, depending on what department from the state the money comes from.

“When you get everyone on board, it really holds everyone’s feet to the fire and holds them accountable to achieve them,” Barrett said.

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