Zero Waste Superheroes!

Last week, as part of their study of sustainability, Class 1 took the “zero waste” lunch challenge! By learning about portion sizes and taking only the amount of food they could actually eat, these students helped to reduce the amount of food that gets thrown away in the Lower Level Dining Room every day. After eating lunch each day, students placed any uneaten food scraps into a bucket, which was then weighed. The homeroom that generated the least amount of food waste over the course of the week won a special prize! “But it’s not so important which class comes in first,” Head Science Teacher Joanne Hwang explained. “The goal is just to try to get a little better each day and waste less.”

As they worked through this weeklong challenge, the students learned more about the power of food waste in their science classes. As a class gathered around her in the science room, Ms. Hwang explained that some of their lunchtime trash, like orange peels and apple cores, could be turned into fertile soil instead of being sent to a landfill. For further explanation, the group turned to a beloved children’s cartoon character, Peppa Pig!

In a short video clip, Peppa and her family demonstrated how plant and food waste can be turned into compost. Daddy Pig sat in the kitchen peeling vegetables for a delicious soup. But rather than throwing the scraps into the garbage, he asked Peppa to help him bring them outside to his garden. The pigs carried their bag of carrot peels and potato skins outside and carefully dumped it into a large bin full of dirt and worms. Daddy Pig explained that earthworms and other creatures can eat food scraps and then naturally fertilize the soil, creating the perfect ingredient for a lush garden.

Chapin’s Class 1 scientists, all certified worm experts after studying them earlier this year, were excited to learn a new fun fact about these underground creatures! While sitting together on the rug, they began brainstorming about all of the food items from their lunches that could be used to feed worms and create compost. “Bread crust!” “Salad!” “Eggs!” they eagerly shouted. “We can also compost anything paper-based, like cardboard or paper napkins,” Ms. Hwang added.

Next, the students put their garbage sorting skills to the test. Each group of four was given a pile of items (a paperclip, a gumdrop, a popsicle stick, carrot shavings, aluminum foil, a paper towel, a leaf from a plant, and a piece of plastic) and was asked to sort them as quickly as possible into two groups: compostable and non-compostable. Soon enough, each table was covered with two piles: one of food scraps and paper and the other of plastic and other trash. Ms. Hwang and Science Associate Teacher Delia Rollow reviewed each team’s sorting results before bringing out the next exciting item… the science room’s very own composting bin!

While the students gathered around in anticipation, Ms. Hwang placed the large bin in the center of the classroom and carefully removed the lid, revealing a pile of dirt full of little worms. She pointed out the disintegrating remains of old eggshells and cucumber slices and added some fresh food waste from the Lower Level Dining Room to the top of the pile. “All of these food scraps will become dirt one day. Isn’t that amazing?” she said. “These worms are like superheroes!”

The students gasped with excitement as their teachers shared that they would spend the rest of the class creating their very own tabletop compost bins. On each table sat a small plastic bin full of soil with 10 to 12 worms and a pile of compostable materials like carrot shavings, leaves and cucumber slices. The students worked together in small groups to place the food scraps throughout their bins. Some adventurous students even used their fingers to gently dig through the dirt and find the worms. “I think he’s dancing!” one student exclaimed as a small worm wriggled around in the palm of her hand. “We are the worm patrol!” shouted another.

As the groups worked, their teachers explained that compost forms after worms eat food scraps and then poop out a substance called “castings.” These castings mix with the soil and act as fertilizer. “Wow! Worm poop is so cool!” one student declared. “This is so fun!” added her friend.

With their bins full of food scraps and ready for composting, the students gathered back together on the rug and shared what they had learned. “We learned not to waste food scraps.” “I learned that worms eat lots of different things.”

Before they returned to their homerooms, Ms. Hwang reminded the students to be mindful of their food waste during lunch. “Yesterday I noticed some bread slices that were completely uneaten,” Ms. Hwang noted. “Maybe today you can try taking a smaller portion.” During their lunch on Friday, the final day of the challenge, the Class 1 students proudly showed this writer their nearly empty food waste bins. Their plates were cleaned and their enthusiasm was contagious. Clearly, this lesson on sustainability will stick with these students for many lunches to come!

Browse photos from the "Zero Waste Lunch Challenge" week below: