$84,000 to 20 waste reduction projects

'Waste Not Washington' awards support school sustainability efforts, statewide

An important piece of our work is supporting the efforts of organizations to become more environmentally sustainable. Sustainability efforts are worth funding because each project gets us a little closer to an economy that minimizes waste and protects the environment. Last year we presented an opportunity to Washington schools, non-profit organizations, and local governments that would award them up to $5,000 to continue current projects and develop new ones that reduce waste, increase recycling, and provide an environmental curriculum.

Ecology's Waste Not Washington Awards asked for the best ideas and these organizations responded.

In 2021, we awarded more than $84,000 to 20 projects across the state. From Mount Vernon's Jefferson Elementary School project that sought to eliminate single-use plastic serviceware in its cafeteria, to the City of Spokane Solid Waste Department’s launch of “STEAM in the Garden” to promote science, technology, engineering, arts, and math in classrooms, the money supported common sense solutions and promoted innovation from the ground up, where funding is often most needed.

“Schools’ and non-profits’ budget limitations don’t often consider spending on waste reduction and recycling projects,” said Ecology’s Laurie Davies, who oversees the Solid Waste Management program. “These awards support those projects and get us closer to our waste reduction goals.”

Three awards categories

Many of the 2021 Waste Not Washington awards were use to purchase new equipment and supplies. Four schools installed water bottle filling stations to reduce the use of single-use plastic water bottles. Three schools eliminated their need for plastic serviceware or trays by purchasing durable products; and seven projects focused on food waste reduction by composting cafeteria scraps and using the product to enrich garden soil.

This variety of outcomes is the result of the three award categories (Seed, Sustainable School, and Creative Curriculum) to achieve different sustainability goals. In 2021, we gave out nine Seed Awards totaling $36,884 to help schools implement waste reduction and recycling programs. Winning applicants could use the awards to buy educational aids and equipment for waste reduction and recycling programs.

The Sustainable School Award category supports ongoing and new efforts by schools to recycle, compost, and reduce waste. We awarded $32,998 to eight recipients this year. The goal of the Creative Curriculum category is to use newly created and original curriculum to introduce students, teachers, staff, and administrators to the concepts of waste reduction, composting, recycling, green chemistry, sustainable design, or circular economy. We funded three projects totaling $14,600 in 2020-2021.

See a full list of 2021 Waste Not Washington award winners at our award webpage.

A closer look at some of the programs

The COVID-19 pandemic created many obstacles during the implementation of many projects funded by the Waste Not Washington School Awards program. Along with every other aspect of their work, schools across the state adjusted and found ways to carry out their educational missions in a less wasteful manner. We're proud of all of the 2021 applicants. Below is more information about few of them.

​Sunfield Farm Waldorf School Agricultural Arts Program
Young students using shovels to turn soil in a garden.

Sunfield School in Port Hadlock wanted to expand its sustainability curriculum to include traditional waste reduction and recycling funded by Waste Not Washington’s Sustainable School Award. This award supported recycling and composting infrastructure at the school in the form of sturdy recycling bins, a compost turner, hand tools for students, and supplies to update garden beds.The infrastructure is in place and the program is thriving.

Students and sheep in a grassy field

Summer camp groups actively used the compost turner, the hand tools, and established gardens. Camp students had hands-on learning in waste reduction and its environmental applications. Students mirrored these activities this fall and have more curriculum to accompany the composting fieldwork in environmental studies and chemistry. Students in 3rd and 8th grades have the most hands-on learning with the compost turner and the associated curriculum; however, the new recycling system is a school wide effort.

According to Sunfield’s farm director Ezra Sullivan, applicants for 2021 Waste Not Washington Awards should ask for help and clarification before they apply for an award. “Ecology has resources that are available to assist with any questions you have, and will make sure that ideas you have for projects meet the criteria."

Students "upcycling" waste into art.
Spokane STEAM in the Garden Program

Spokane’s STEAM in the Garden program was delivered one month after being notified it was a winner of a Waste Not Washington Award recipient. Students are involved in all stages of the program as they learn how to build compost bins, make compost tea brewers, bokashi bins, and garden boxes.

An educator helping students garden.

The community will benefit from this project because it provides a location to compost on the property. Additionally, the curriculum of this program has introduced waste reduction concepts and supported the wider practice of sustainability among the students and community members who participated.

Pacific Education Institute food waste reduction

The Pacific Education Institute (PEI) in Olympia used its Creative Curriculum award to build an asynchronous course to train and support teachers as they implement climate science food waste education. PEI designed this self-paced course with seven modules based on the ClimeTime Solutions-Oriented Learning Storylines in the topic of Food Waste. All resources are available as Open-Educational Resources on the PEI website and at OER Commons.

The award also helped support the creation of two virtual field experiences with three Washington businesses: Iron Horse Brewery, Beard Ranch (PNW Beef), and Natural Selection Farms (Compost). These experiences, in conjunction with the supportof PEI, help teachers connect the workshop content to regional and local careers, as well as systems already in place to reduce food waste. 

This professional learning experience offered by PEI targeted teachers in districts with high-scoring Environmental Health Disparity Areas statewide, which are generally districts with schools that have a high population of free and reduced lunch program participants. Thirty-two educators completed the first two courses. PEI offered a third course in August to 60 educators also representing schools from high-scoring Environmental Health Disparity Areas.

Roosevelt Elementary School single-use plastic reduction project
Students smiling at lunch while eating from bright blue reusable trays.

Roosevelt Elementary in Yakima envisioned this award helping its community live out its BEAR Expectations—Be safe, Act responsibly, Expect success, and Respect all—by helping it become more sustainable. Through its Roosevelt Bears Replace, Reduce, and Recycle project, school staff, students, and families are empowered to act responsibly in the cafeteria. 

In the spring of 2021, the school made key purchases supported by award funding that replaced single-use items in the cafeteria with reusable ones and expanded its food waste reduction and recycling programs. The school used the new trays, water bottles, and tablecloths during summer programming and continued with students in the cafeteria on the first day of school 

Spanaway Middle School water bottle filling station

Spanaway Middle School in Pierce County used its Waste Not Washington School Award to pay for a new water bottle filling station in a high-traffic location where it will find regular use. Community Health Care School-Based Health Center donated 800 water bottles to our students and staff.

The Waste Not Washington Award inspired one teacher to start a new club called Green Team, which will focuses on caring for the environment. The club promotes filling station use to reduce waste, encourages consumption of clean water, and increases the school community’s understanding of how its choices effect the environment and climate around the world.

A Mt. Stuart Elementary cafeteria employee places food on reusable trays
Mt. Stuart Elementary's single-use plastic replacement project

Mt. Stuart Elementary cafeteria serves more than 400 meals per day and is one of busiest schools in the Ellensburg School District. Its project replaced expanded polystyrene trays with durable trays, and has reduced messes, garbage, and the cost of single-use supplies. 

A Mt. Stuart Elementary cafeteria employee washes a reusable tray.

The responses from students and staff to the reusable trays has been overwhelmingly positive. Some Mt. Stuart students helped to brainstorm solutions, plan, and fundraise. Students also had an opportunity to take their case for reusable supplies to the Ellensburg School Board about the importance of reusing products in their schools.

Lind-Ritzville Middle School healthy choices

The Waste Not Washington award provided Lind-Ritzville Middle School in Adams County with a boost to its food service program by supporting a wider selection of whole, fresh foods vailable to students. The school also purchased of a new cooler that keeps milk cold and fresh. The school’s new food warmer, also purchased with award funds, maintains food at appropriate temperatures to eliminate spoilage.

Cascade School District composting project
Students turning compost.

The Waste to Resource Home Link School Composting pilot project introduced backyard composting methods and soil ecology in Chelan County at the Cascade School District's 4th-through-8th grade experiential education program. Students gained an understanding of the importance of soil ecology and compost in the context of land regeneration and food production. COVID-19 required district schools to adapt their original pilot project plans and partner with a local farm for field studies.

At the farm, students conducted soil tests, built compost piles, designed compost systems, and added soil amendments to garden beds. The school will continue to benefit from this partnership and will expand it to other grade levels in the future.

Waste Loop (Cascade School District)
Students and adults studying soil in a greenhouse.

Waste Loop developed a curriculum series for Chelan County’s Cascade School District that takes elementary students on an interdisciplinary journey into their local waste streams thanks to the support of a Creative Curriculum Award. The curriculum used in-class discussion, at-home activities, and videos to look at the cycle of local garbage, recycling, and compost. The focus of the curriculum was on using tangible tools students can use to reduce waste. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, program leaders adapted some of the hands-on learning components for virtual participation.

To make the online learning fun and engaging, organizers added a component of creative reuse into each session. This led to the entire class making musical instruments out of material that would have been thrown away, and then playing together, online. The curriculum is now accessible to students and teachers.

Harrah Elementary School recycled paper collection

Harrah Elementary in Yakima County wanted to simply reduce as much as possible the landfilling of paper. With its award and the help of Mt. Adams School District, the school purchased a utility trailer to transport the recycled paper it collects to a local recycling center in Yakima County. The paper-recycling program now accepts flattened cardboard and has distributed recycling bins to staff. 

Environmental and Adventure School new food waste composter

The Environmental and Adventure School in Kirkland used its award to purchase and install the first Ridan Food Composter and maturation bins in North America. These unique composters can process meats and dairy products, and do not require electrical power thanks to a hand-turned auger. The school’s Waste Not Washington award allowed it to reduce the costs of hauling food waste off-site, eliminated its need to purchase garden soil, and created opportunities to educate students and the extended community about waste reduction and recycling.

The composter arrived just before the start of the 2021-22 school year. To prepare for its use, the school’s Green Team students revised the lunch composting and recycling process to further separate liquids and grind larger food waste, such as fruit slices and pizza crusts into smaller pieces to assist the  composting process.

The school’s Green Team students handle all aspects of the composting process, from collecting food waste and making sure recyclables, compostables, and garbage are separated, to operating the Ridan Composter. The school uses its compost in its greenhouse and native plant repository to grow native plants for use in local environmental restoration projects.

Franklin Elementary School’s Garden and Compost Program
A student watering vegetables.

Using funds from this award, Franklin Elementary School’s Garden and Compost Program volunteer coordinator purchased materials to improve the program and implemented a worm bin system in the garden — a key education component during garden lessons. The school now has the tools needed to efficiently maintain compost and establish a dedicated compost chopping area and vegetable rinse station.

The school also implemented a more streamlined in-school waste station and purchased classroom education supplies like microscopes and soil testing tools that support compost-related garden lessons. 

The garden allowed teachers to use an outdoor education space to socially distance. The financial award has been a catalyst for action, and enabled the school garden coordinator to establish close working relationships with community partners at the Clallam Washington State University Extension Office.

Virginia Grainger Elementary School vegetable waste diversion

Virginia Grainger Elementary School Okanogan County used its Waste Not Washington Award to divert vegetable waste away from the landfill and into its school garden using worm compost (vermiculture). The school also engaged young people in a rich learning experience in science and ecology by integrating them across the curriculum.

The school’s advice to 2022 applicants is to approach their project with a long view. Institutional change is difficult, but don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than expected to implement a project. The experience provided to students will have positive results and is worth the wait.