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Plank students, HSA partner in green school initiative

Withfive years more than 500000 foam food trays will be kept out landfills because everybody Plank Junior High School got

Within five years, more than 500,000 foam food trays will be kept out of landfills because everybody at Plank Junior High School got involved and made a change in their daily lunch routine. | Submitted

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Updated: September 28, 2012 4:10PM

It started as an idea between a handful of students, grew to attract the interest of parents and developed into a schoolwide initiative. Within five years, more than 500,000 foam food trays will be kept out of landfills because everybody at Plank Junior High School got involved and made a change in their daily lunch routine.

The Earth Team, a club for students in District 308’s Plank Junior High School, meets regularly to promote and conduct ecology and recycling efforts in the school. As part of one of their monthly brainstorming sessions last school year, club members discussed research that showed 70 percent of the garbage found in landfills was because of the disposal of foam lunch trays.

By putting their math skills to work, the students quickly realized that Plank Junior High School alone was contributing about 182,000 trays to the landfills per year. It was then that students decided to go above and beyond their school paper recycling efforts and work to raise funds to support the purchase of reusable plastic food trays for the school.

The team began its efforts with a couple holiday-themed school fundraisers, but quickly realized that it would be extremely difficult to accumulate the amount that would be needed to purchase trays for the entire school. Plank teacher and Earth Team adviser Denise Kiesewetter decided to help supplement the student fundraising efforts by submitting a teacher grant request to the Plank Home and School Association (HSA) requesting financial assistance. The HSA quickly approved the grant and began researching the trays and vendors that could help make the student’s initiative a reality.

“We were very excited when we learned that this was something our school was interested in doing,” said Maxine Gomez, Plank Home and School president. “Not only is there an opportunity for the district to save money by not having to purchase the foam plates but the potential to decrease the costs associated with their disposal have yet to be fully realized. Whatever the savings, the long-lasting benefit of reducing waste in our community has a direct effect on our students and neighbors, and that alone was enough to inspire parents and teachers to push this initiative forward.”

Plank’s HSA purchased 600 plastic, re-usable food trays for the school, donating $3,021 to the effort. The number of trays covers the needs for two entire lunch periods. The trays are expected to last for at least five years, and then they can be recycled.

“The Plank Junior High Earth Team is very excited to have brought this initiative to the school,” Kiesewetter said. “We greatly appreciate the Plank HSA being willing to help students accomplish the goal of replacing the foam trays with plastic reusable trays. The earth team worked very hard to accomplish this goal and is proud to have made a difference that impacts our school, our community and the Earth.”

Plank’s students, HSA, the school district and its food vendor have all been working together this year to finalize the logistics of using, storing and maintaining the new trays so the student initiative can be expanded to all lunch periods. The efforts will continue to make it a fully functional program that also can be shared with other District 308 schools.

“I am proud to serve such a dedicated group of students, families, teachers and staff that care so much about their school and community,” Gomez said. “We know that the transition of using these reusable trays may not be easy, but are confident that we will gain the support of the district and community to make this initiative a success for generations to come. We have the hope that this vision can be shared and spread throughout our district and beyond.”

Kristine Liptrot is director of communications for Oswego Community Unit School District 308.

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