Sunday, February 5, 2012

Making Cambridge Schools Sustainable

By Eliza

Through the years the Sprouts of Hope have worked on many sustainability projects in the Cambridge public schools —at King Open, our K-8 school, and now in high school, at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS). When we were in elementary school, we went before the school committee to let them know why they should get rid of the cafeteria's polystyrene food trays. After our second time testifying about this problem, the school committee voted for the school district to investigate this problem and that led to us working with school district officials to implement composting in our cafeteria.

King Open became the composting pilot program that other schools in the district are adopting. The Sprouts of Hope also introduced the idea of waste free lunches at King Open.

Many other individuals and groups have been a part of this same effort to improve sustainability in Cambridge. Meryl Brott, the Recycling Program Manager for the City of Cambridge at the Department of Public Works, helped us to start the compost program at King Open and has championed its movement into other schools. We are so happy to discover that she just received the The Green Hero honor from the Cambridge School District for the months of January/February 2012.

Here's a slideshow Meryl created to show why and how schools set up their composting programs.

Our high school’s environmental action club, which a few of the Sprouts recently joined, is also active in making a positive difference in our school's sustainability. During the last two years our entire high school was rebuilt in a "green way" and will be LEED certified. There are eco-friendly improvements still taking place — by students and teachers —to make what goes on in the high school more energy efficient, eco-friendly and sustainable.

One great thing the school district did was to hire Kristen Von Hoffmann to be its first sustainability coordinator. We've met with Kristen (she's sitting in the middle of us in the photo below) to talk about her initiatives and we want to help her to engage more students in getting involved in supporting her efforts. And she's clearly doing a good job!

According to the Fall 2011 Recycling Summary published by the Cambridge Department of Public Works, the Cambridge Public Schools recycled 82.8 tons (165,648 pounds) of waste during the first semester of school. In fact, in December 2011 alone, 41,062 pounds of waste were recycled. On average, that is around 7.5 pounds per student! Most schools are even taking part in a recycling competition to see which school can recycle the most waste.

Recycling is clearly a main focus of sustainability in the Cambridge Public Schools, but progress with composting is happening, too, thanks to Meryl's efforts. Cambridgeport, a K-8 school in our district, recently began composting and our high school begins composting in April. When that happens, five of the district's schools will be doing school-wide composting in their cafeterias!

Water is another focus of improving sustainability. In the high school's cafeteria, we have new water dispensers where students fill up their reusable water bottles for free instead of buying bottled water. In fact, our cafeteria no longer offers bottled water! Additionally, CRLS is trying to reduce its carbon footprint. Take a look at how we are partnering with NSTAR to try to save energy in our school:

It makes us so happy to know that so many people are working on the issue of sustainability in our schools. We hope a lot of students will get involved and help. If you want to find out what you can do, then email Kristen Von Hoffmann, the Cambridge Sustainability Coordinator, at

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