Heather Hill fifth graders become environmental activists, and get results. Members of the environmental club appealed to the school’s food provider to consider changing its packaging material.
No one really knew what to expect when the fifth graders on the Green Team at Heather Hill School in Flossmoor wrote to their food service vendor, Ceres Food Group, to complain about its Styrofoam trays. The environmental club expressed its dismay over the switch away from cardboard trays for the 2017-2018 school year. In their letter, they asked Ceres to consider switching back.
Regardless of what ended up happening, Heather Hill teacher Joan Mahler, who is one of the club’s sponsors, said it was a good lesson for the club’s members. They learned what it’s like to research a topic they care about and then take action for change.
But then something happened. The regional manager of Ceres wrote back, saying the company would try to find a lower price for its cardboard trays, the cost of which had driven the Styrofoam switch.
“Some people said, ‘Oh, just be happy you got a response,’” Mahler said. “But the Green Team didn’t want to let it go. We were all upset about the switch.”
They prepared to write a follow-up letter when another note arrived from Ceres, this time saying the company had secured a lower price for the cardboard trays. All hot lunch trays at every school in Flossmoor School District 161 were immediately going back to cardboard.
The members of the Green Team were recognized at the district’s school board meeting on Jan. 22. Students presented a slideshow about their successful campaign. Each member spoke in turn to explain that Styrofoam is made from oil, is neither recyclable or biodegradable, and occupies 30 percent of all U.S. landfill space.
The team gathered these facts throughout their research efforts toward getting the trays changed. It was the perfect type of activity for the Green Team.
“I didn’t know I was going to be at the school board meeting when I joined the Green Team,” said Isaiah Thompson. “I felt very proud of everybody.”
Matthis Tyrone said he was surprised to learn how bad Styrofoam is for the environment and Destini Burgs said she asked her mom to stop buying foam plates to use at home. Grace Taylor said being on the Green Team has taught her about the importance of not littering and now she encourages her sisters not to litter.
The Green Team meets during their 20-minute recess time to talk about their projects. The club is also responsible for the school’s recycling efforts. On Thursdays the students work with club co-sponsors Ryan Kirby and Beth Mikolajczyk to collect recyclables from around the school and dump them into the large bin behind the building. Bryce Stewart said that’s his favorite part of being on the Green Team, “and that we got to go to the board meeting,” he added. Lillian Kessler said she also likes picking up the recycle bins every week.
Along with paper, plastic and cans, the Green Team also recycles batteries, reusable water bottles, plastic bags and more.
“The Green Team is fun and I like to help the school this way,” said Michael Franklin. “It feels good.”
Not only did the Green Team get the cardboard trays returned to their lunchroom, they’re giving them a life beyond that. Mahler said the team will collect the trays — most of which stay pretty clean — and donate them to local veterinarians and animal shelters to be used for animal food dishes.
Now that this project is in the books, the Green Team has plans for the future sketched out in their recycled cereal box notebooks.
“We learned we can do anything if we put our minds to it,” said Benjamin Peden.