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Crestwood Environmental Club Cleans Up Lunch Waste

Oct. 12, 2021

“Suh-!” Crestwood Elementary School reading specialist Karen Luning yelled to the crop of students at this year’s first Environmental Club meeting. In unison, the group of 30+ students all yelled back “Suh-!” 

Luning was trying to teach her kids in grades K-5 how to say the six-syllable word ‘sustainability,’ one syllable at a time. It was difficult, but eventually the students were able to say it back to Luning, one syllable at a time.

“Does anyone know what that means?” asked Jaclyn Jezik, parent representative for the club and green mentor.

This is the Environmental Club’s third year at Crestwood, and the group has doubled in size since its inception, going from 15 students to more than 30. The goal of the club is to learn about how to be environmentally friendly. They have done community projects such as cleaning a creek, and also have had guest speakers.

The club has already made a large contribution to helping the school with its “Green Wave of Change” project that was implemented in 2019-20. That year, the students won the Green Schools Quest first place prize in the elementary school category, in the contest held by the Missouri Gateway Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. It was the school’s first year in the competition which brings a no-cost or low-cost sustainable project to the school.

The student-driven project at Crestwood and Long elementary schools included working with the cafeteria on improving recycling and sustainability. Recycling in the school was contaminated. For example, students would put candy wrappers into recycling bins thinking they were recyclable or throw in food from lunch.

The first step of the project was having the St. Louis County Public Health Department visit the school for an outreach program designed to educate what can and can’t be recycled. The department put on a puppet show for younger students that went over recycling. From there, the Missouri Botanical Gardens came in and did a trash audit of the school.

“After lunch, 10 students from the environmental club stayed after with a representative of the Botanical Garden, and separated the trash and what was compostable,” Jezik said. “We found out before we separated that on average every day we were producing 12 bags of trash just from the cafeteria.”

After separating the trash from what was recyclable, including taking out styrofoam trays, students found that they only produced two bags of trash. One of the biggest factors was using styrofoam trays. The club found out that there were reusable trays in storage, and this year, the school is utilizing them in a pilot program during lunch. It is their hope that the rest of Lindbergh Schools will follow suit and styrofoam trays will be a thing of the past.

“The students were using the four C’s [collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity], collaborating with Long Elementary School, and using critical thinking to make improvements,” Jezik said. “It was their drive to improve the cafeteria.”

Jezik found out that St. Louis Public Schools conducted a study that concluded the district was putting enough styrofoam trays to fill 22 St. Louis Arches into landfills each year. The club used that as a basis for using the reusable trays at Crestwood this year.

This year, the club is doing a “Rainbow of Sustainably” project. Each month has a different theme relating to sustainability. That’s why Luning and Jezik were trying to get the students to learn how to say ‘sustainability.’

“Does anyone know what sustainability means?” Jezik asked again.

Students gave answers connected to recycling.

Luning went over the root word.

“To sustain something means what?” Luning said. “We want it to keep going.”