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Making San Diego Schools More Eco-friendly

Solana Center makes school lunch recycling a no-brainer. Thanks to SDG&E’s Environmental Champions funding, our educators recently worked with the staff and students at San Ysidro School District to reduce lunch waste and send less to the landfill.  San Ysidro School District has 5,230 students in grades k-8 and a high percentage of children from low-income families. San Ysidro is a community within the City of San Diego that borders Mexico.

Our Waste to Wealth School Lunch Sorting Program is designed to engage students and teach the staff. The school district selected La Mirada Elementary as the representative school to implement the Waste to Wealth Lunch Sorting Program. One third of the students are considered food insecure and in some cases are in foster care or homeless. Every student at La Mirada Elementary receives both breakfast and lunch and the kitchen staff takes pride in cooking healthy food for the students. Solana Center educators conducted a pre-education lunch waste audit on September 7, 2016.

Our results concluded that, by weight, 87% of the waste could be diverted from the landfill. The waste audit provided a gauge to evaluate knowledge acquired and change in behavior. We conducted three educational school assemblies and held a first day of lunch monitoring and sorting on October 17th. Sorting stations were set up, including a liquid dumping station which allowed milk cartons to be recycled. Non-recyclable lunch trays were stacked as a way to reduce their volume and to save money on waste hauling fees. A share table was actively used to reduce the amount of leftover food at the end of the meal. Share tables are simply places where students can place unwanted food that has been unopened and whole fruits, like bananas, to offer it to other students who may want a little extra.

“It was the best use of a share table at any school that I’ve ever seen,” said Solana Center Educator, Ashley Marquez who previously served as a FoodCorps service member.

A second day of lunch sorting was held on October 18th. Students were so enthusiastic about the program, many of them volunteered to assist other students as lunch sorting monitors. Students sorted their waste successfully and felt empowered. When it was time to do the post education waste audit, Solana Center educators were overwhelmed with student offers to help.

“I could tell that they (the students) wanted to feel like they were making a difference,” said Marquez.

On October 26th, a post education waste audit was conducted. The post education waste audit showed that the students at La Mirada Elementary School understood the education and embraced the message as evidenced by the very low contamination rates. Students had a 96% sorting success rate. Contamination, or items placed in the wrong waste bin, was only 4%.

“The key to a successful long term program is to have staff or volunteers that continue to guide the recycling efforts,” said Marquez.

A report will be compiled and shared with the school. In that report, Solana Center will make recommendations based on the pre and post audit data and observations. The report will also include recyclable tray options. For information about our school recycling programs, contact our Director of Education at