As plastic bag ordinances and recycling programs headline the front pages of newspapers and magazines around the country, many communities are taking the matter of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle into their own hands on a local level. Grassroots organizations have sprouted up all over the United States and efficient, sustainable green programs are blossoming with help from schools and community leaders. In a quiet Connecticut town filled with mom and pop shops and abundant greenery, a local group decided to bring the eco movement to their charming streets.
The Green Village Initiative in Ridgefield, CT has been supporting environmental changes in their local community since 2010. In just a few short years, they have helped establish Ridgefield as the first town in Connecticut with an edible garden in every school and an accompanying curriculum-based activity guide to support their environmental endeavors. Fostering a relationship with each elementary school has been key to starting the conversation early and helping to inform and influence wider systemic changes throughout the greater community.
Green initiatives in Ridgefield include developing a film and lecture series to help explain sustainable practices, creating community gardens and introducing worm compost bins to schools. One of the most recent programs has been a Litter-Less Lunch in elementary schools around town. Litter-less lunch sought to improve the amount of garbage and waste created each day in the school cafeterias. Using Mass Solid Waste (MSW – trash and un-recyclables) as a benchmark, members of the Green Village Initiative (GVI) realized that their children’s school cafeterias were producing overwhelming amounts of trash that could easily be recycled and processed if sorted correctly. GVI felt that the cafeteria offered a great opportunity to showcase sustainable recycling habits and severely cut down the amount of waste output on a daily basis. Elementary schools seemed like the best place to start teaching these eco-friendly, healthy habits as early as possible.
Instead of tossing all the food-laden paper plates, half-emptied juice boxes and other lunch waste into one big bin, the Litter-Less Lunch program introduced a brief end-of-lunch sorting where kids can empty the liquids into one container, add all “single stream recyclables” (foil, juice boxes, yogurt containers, ziplocs) into another and finally toss the leftover food and un-recyclables into a final container. Simply put, the Litter-Less Lunch embodies the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle system by cutting down on trash, recycling more and promoting the use of reusable products in place of un-recyclables.
Kicking off the litter-less lunch in Farmingville Elementary School this past fall, in just one month the school reduced their MSW by 50% and doubled their output of recyclables. The cafeteria custodian no longer changes the garbage in between every lunch, instead he can pick up all of the trash accumulated throughout the lunch hours in one fell swoop. And the new garbage system is not only having an impact on the students, parents are now sending their children to school with reusable containers, sandwich packs and lunch bags to further reduce waste. Local farmers have also signed on to take away the discarded food to make compost and other local nurseries use the food waste to feed their chickens. GVI Ridgefield continues to develop the Litter-Less program and has introduced it to additional elementary schools as well as middle schools in the community.
Veteran’s Park Elementary School in Ridgefield has started a green fundraiser with Mixed Bag Designs to further support their green initiatives. The school fundraiser offers the community an opportunity to purchase eco-friendly products like reusable snack packs and lunch bags made from recycled materials while also giving back to the school. 40% of all online purchases adding the Fundraiser ID# 105519 at the Mixed Bag Designs Shop Checkout will go to support Veteran’s Park School in Ridgefield.