Jordan Middle School Trash-Free Lunch Challenge

Students use a variety of recycling bins and buckets at Jordan Middle School in Burbank on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. The school, which recycles most of the trash generated during lunch, is one of three finalists in L.A. County for the annual Trash-Free Lunch Challenge, sponsored by the Sanitation Districts of L.A. County and the environmental non-profit Grades of Green. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer) (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / April 1, 2014)

David Starr Jordan Middle School is one of three middle schools that are finalists in a countywide competition to reduce the amount of trash schools send to landfills.

Months ago, Jordan students began participating in a competition overseen by Grades of Green, an environmental nonprofit that works with the sanitation districts in Los Angeles County to promote environmental education.

Over time, students already involved in a club on Jordan’s campus known to pick up trash after lunch began educating other students by informing them in classroom presentations about which bins on campus should be used for recyclables, trash or compost items such as orange peels or salad.

The students were also told to stack their Styrofoam lunch trays off to the side, instead of placing them in a general trash bin. By disposing of the stacked trays separately, the school was able to significantly reduce the number of trash bags it sent to the landfill because the trays no longer took up so much space in a bag with other trash items.

Sixth-grade teacher Catherine Eskandar has worked with assistant principal Alex Senar to oversee the students who manage the recyclable-and-composting system. Every day, students volunteer to pick up any remaining trash after lunch, organize the recycled items and place the compost in a bin located on the outskirts of campus.

Senar has estimated that the new system has more than doubled the amount of recycling the school was doing previously.

“Just the amount of education and change we’ve had with these little things…has made a huge difference in the waste management,” Senar said.

Parents and teachers have also pitched in to cart glass and plastic bottles from the campus to a recycling center, which has also enabled Jordan students to collect about $50 per week, compared to the $25 they would collect every two weeks before they implemented the stricter program.

“I think it really shows how much practice makes habit,” Eskandar said.

Jordan is a finalist along with students at Jane Addams Middle School in Lawndale and Parras Middle School in Redondo Beach, who competed against more than 20 other middle schools across Los Angeles County.

In mid-April, a judging panel will visit Jordan and the two other schools and select a winner, which will receive a $1,000 grant.

The finalists in the contest have cut waste by an average of 80%, according to Grace Robinson Hyde, chief engineer and general manager of Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County.

Sixth-grade student Genessis Campos said students were hesitant at first to jump onboard with the recycling and composting efforts. But over time, they’ve grown used to it.

“They know what they’re supposed to do,” she said. “Now everyone — they’re doing their best. You don’t really see as much trash anymore. Before, I was really bothered by it because it was everywhere. But now there’s not as much, so it’s amazing.”

Seventh-grader Karlie Comeaux has also seen a change in students’ behavior.

“It’s been improving more often,” she said. “Every once in a while, we get food and liquids in the compost [bin]…we can get a little bit better.”

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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