Student awareness and advocacy can change cultural sustainability habits. That is Rachel Oliveri’s primary goal. Oliveri is the Arlington School Sustainability Coordinator who works closely with Arlington Public School staff and students as well as the Department of Public Works to develop and support school sustainability initiatives such as textile recycling, cafeteria composting and school Green Teams.

In 2023, elementary Green Teams:

  • Composted 8 tons of pumpkins
  • Recycled approximately 170 tons of textiles

This blog spotlights current initiatives in Arlington’s seven elementary schools.

Eliminating single-use plastic utensils

With 2023 state legislation making school lunches free for all students, the number of Arlington students served school lunches has more than doubled. Unfortunately, that also means that the use of single-use plastics in school cafeterias has significantly grown.

Last fall, Oliveri, inspired by student advocacy, worked with the Food Services Director, Denise Boucher, to replace single-use plastic utensils with metal, reusable utensils at the Gibbs School. The Dallin School 4th grade Action Club has been advocating for reducing waste at their school. As a result of their hard work, the schools’ cafeteria will be moving from single-use plastic utensils to metal, reusable utensils this month. Oliveri hopes to continue the partnership and roll out reusable utensils at additional schools.

Share tables reduce food waste

Nearly every Arlington school has a cafeteria ‚ÄėShare Table‚Äô to reduce food waste of unwanted¬†items that are automatically provided as part of the school lunch.

Discarded (and unopened) items such as string cheese, packaged carrots or cranberries, yogurt, milk cartons, oranges and bananas are placed on a designated table for any student to take. The program not only reduces cafeteria food waste, but also provides extra food for students who want it.

Pumpkin composting

Every Fall, the elementary school Green Teams work with the School Sustainability Coordinator to compost the school community’s Halloween pumpkins, thus eliminating tons of waste from the incinerator. In 2023, Black Earth Compost filled three collection trucks with over 8 tons of pumpkins from Arlington’s seven elementary schools.

In addition to this annual event, every Arlington school cafeteria composts food scraps.

Textile recycling

For many years now, every elementary school has had a Baystate Textiles collection bin. However, textile recycling has risen significantly since the passage of legislation in November 2022 that bans textiles from Massachusetts trash. In 2023, Arlington collected approximately 170 tons of textiles. An annual district-wide textile recycling competition promotes participation in this program. This year, the competition will run from April 30 – May 30.

Most textiles can be recycled, including clothing, footwear, blankets, stuffed animals and more. Whether worn, torn or in good condition, all textiles are sorted and distributed to appropriate resale or recycling channels.

The school district earns funds for every ton of textiles collected. Accepted items include: clothing, footwear, accessories (belts, purses, etc.), linens. Items that ARE NOT accepted include: cushions, rugs, mattress pads. 

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