Carmel Awarded 1st Place for Responsible School Waste Plan

During the 2022-2023 school year, Carmel Catholic High School embarked on a plan to responsibly reduce waste generated by students, teachers and faculty with the goal of ultimately achieving net zero waste. The project focused primarily on cafeteria waste, classroom waste and electronic waste. 

In reviewing the project, one judge commented, “Wonderful efforts on the path to zero waste at Carmel! Student engagement and creativity is evident throughout the project, and they have the data to back up their work. I loved all the educational materials (videos, games, etc.) to teach and test the school community's knowledge.”

The award was presented at the virtual Green Schools Celebration on May 17.

The Illinois Green Schools Project is a project-based challenge for K-12 schools to devise and implement creative no- to low-cost energy, water and waste initiatives, and sustainable practices.

Earlier in the school year, Carmel was the recipient of a grant through the Illinois Green School Project. Carmel used its grant toward the purchase of additional recycling bins for school classrooms.

Project Outline

First, Carmel students conducted waste audits to assess:

  • How much waste is being sent to landfill
  • What types of waste are being generated
  • If there is any contamination in recycling streams
  • Evaluate which waste streams can be designed out/reduced/replaced with recyclable/reusable/compostable alternatives.

December 2022 waste audit data is shown on the right.

Second, from the results of the waste audits, Carmel implemented changes to their operations and waste program, which included:

  • a school composting program within the cafeteria to eliminate food waste being sent to landfill. Later on, it was requested by faculty and staff to also have a compost collection in the faculty room and art room.
  • setting up waste stations in the cafeteria with student ‘bin monitors’ to assist students and continually educate them on which lunch waste items go in which bins.
  • Carmel High School worked alongside their cafeteria food management provider to replace any cafeteria goods destined for landfill, with compostable/reusable/recyclable alternatives. This included;
    • Replacing single-use ketchup packets with bulk containers to eliminate packaging
    • Replacing single-use plastic forks and knives with wooden, compostable chopsticks and providing reusable cutlery packets.
  • A student-led assessment of the number and types of waste bins in each classroom in the building. Carmel then purchased new recycling bins for rooms without them (this is how the grant funds were utilized)
  • Hosting an IT collection day in which faculty and staff inventoried and assessed which IT equipment they no longer needed. Student ambassadors went door to door collecting the surplus equipment from classrooms to be evaluated and inventoried altogether. Any non-functioning or obsolete IT equipment was recycled through a recycling partner and any good-condition equipment is now being stored by IT for use by faculty and staff before purchasing new.
  • Implemented battery recycling program for faculty and staff
  • Additionally, Carmel student ambassadors gave proper sorting trainings during morning homeroom at the beginning of the implementation and throughout the year as a reminder as needed. An example training can be viewed here:  E-Vengers episode 2: Are you smarter than Climate Change?! (10/18/2022).Project Highlights
  • Implementation of the composting program resulted in 2,992 pounds of waste diverted from landfill per school year (figure based on monthly recording from 2022-2023)
  • E-waste recycling resulted in 667 pounds of electronic equipment recycled
  • Eliminating single-use plastic cutlery reduced 360 pounds of plastic being purchased and landfilled per school year

Unique or Creative Ideas Embedded Within Project

  • A lot of the creative ideas embedded in this project came from the student body. Students suggested the use of compostable chopsticks as an alternative to single-use cutlery.
  • The students created training videos to educate students and staff on how to manage waste properly. These training videos were played during morning homeroom anytime a new aspect of the waste program was implemented.
  • Students designed their own creative signage for waste bins which are now consistent throughout the building
  • Carmel’s nighttime custodial staff does not have the capacity to remove any other waste streams from classrooms in addition to trash. This is why, up until now, most of the classrooms did not have recycling bins. As part of this project, the student ambassadors proposed reintroducing the recycling bins and collecting them themselves every week. As a result, there are now recycling bins in every classroom which is being emptied weekly. 

Next Steps or Future Plans to Continue Project

  • Switch to compostable packaging for sandwiches and yogurt in the cafeteria
  • Goal to be plastic water bottle free by next year
  • Next time cafeteria gets renovated, install dishwasher to implement reusable/returnable silverware program
  • Conduct E-waste and used batteries collection on annual basis