Is Avenues Becoming more ecologically aware?
We don’t see it happening, but it is. Be ready to follow in Avenues’ footprints before they disappear.
What is Avenues doing?
Some people might have noticed, but some might have not. Avenues is becoming more ecologically friendly, and we might not even be seeing it. Avenues is a large school, and it makes a lot of waste. Avenues has a plan to go Zero Waste by 2021. That’s pretty ambitious, and the decisions we take every day make a difference.
Going Zero Waste will be difficult, so Avenues is taking small steps. Avenues has already made huge progress removing plastic straws from the café or removing paper from bathrooms entirely, making it easier and more efficient to dry your hands. But there are small things happening that many might not notice.
Matt Scott, director of Operations and Administration at Avenues, has a big role in Avenues’ Zero Waste plan. “We are looking at our waste streams here in the building, for example introducing new trash cans. We saw that everything that needed to be recycled and everything that needed to go to landfill was being mixed together,” Scott said.
By separating the bins, we do not have less waste, but we are splitting up the waste, which is already a good way to help. This can also make people think about if their choices - if a plastic cup over a paper cup is a good choice.
“The Zero Waste Committee is also considering having a dish room, where we could wash dishes instead of throwing out compostable plates,” Scott said.
Having a dish room would be using more water, but less paper plates. If you tried to get seconds with your old plate, you are not allowed to. Instead, you have to get a new plate.
There are rumors that Avenues will be completely Zero Waste by 2020, but Scott thinks otherwise.
“One of the bigger priorities is to find ways to get more students and teachers involved in Zero Waste,” said Scott. By raising awareness with teachers, we can also raise more awareness with students. Scott even said some teachers were attending Zero Waste Committee meetings, and those teachers might definitely influence students and others in our community.
They may also show that there are interesting ways to raise awareness for Zero Waste.
“We’re looking into participating in something called the ‘Green Cup Challenge,’ which is a sustainability prize for independent schools and will definitely require a community-wide effort,” Scott said.
Why is zero waste important?
Although one might not realize the huge amount of waste at Avenues, it definitely piles up. In October of 2018 at Avenues, 29.16 tons of waste were generated.“We have around 2,000 human beings in this building every day, and we make a lot of waste. So at a small level, limiting that makes a difference. We are setting the example for other communities. One thing I’d like to see at Avenues is a waste audit, where we’ll empty out all of the trash and students come through and sort everything. There you can see the amount of waste we actually create in one day,” Scott says.
These ideas will surely make a difference as they will raise awareness for the cause and make people change their behavior. If people are not conscious of how much and their impact in our community, why would they make a change? This is why raising awareness might be as important as actually going Zero Waste, as well. By raising awareness around the topic, we might be getting results quicker than expected.
“By 2020, we plan to have 60% of waste diverted,” Scott said confidently. It would be very difficult to go completely Zero Waste at all because of the constant demand for snack, food and paper.
Malcolm Davol, creator and leader of the Zero Waste Club in the Upper Grades, might have a solution to this. All of the changes might be necessary, but if we want people to continue being as Zero Waste as possible outside of Avenues, we need to let people know. According to Davol, the most important thing about Zero Waste is awareness.
What’s important at Avenues is its students. They are the majority, and they are the ones who create the most waste. After all, the average student at Avenues creates a lot of waste. Between math, snack, Art, English, and going to the cafe, a lot of waste is generated. When you multiply that by about 100 students per grade and 15 grades, you get a large number.
Elizabeth Yang, a 6th grade student, believes in Zero Waste. “I think it’s important because Avenues makes a lot of waste.” When asked how much waste Avenues generated a day, she hesitated. Most students are unaware of the amount of waste we actually create, around 80 tons every quarter. This is just proof that the student body creates lots of waste.
Another student, Kefei Wu, thinks this is a good idea, but thinks it could get much better.
“I think they’re doing great job, but they could do better. For example, pop chips come in huge plastic bags.”
When asked if Avenues could go completely Zero Waste, she answered truthfully. “Zero Waste is about creating as little waste as possible, not going Zero Waste completely.” Going entirely Zero Waste will be very difficult, but getting close to that and making people aware about it is very good.
“Right now we want to really educate people on Zero Waste. We want to let people know about what is going on in our community and New York City,” Davol said.
“There are things that people will notice and there are internal changes; for example switching to recycled paper. There are things that happen through the administration that people might not notice.
“The main thing is just to buy less so you don’t have to compost or to recycle anything. You really have to look into the products you are buying and really evaluating if you need something.”
“Awareness starts with making sure people understand Zero Waste. It can’t be internally with administration. It needs to be the students as well,” said Davol.
What can you do?
Sarah Currie Halpern, The APA Zero Waste Committee Chair, cares a lot about going Zero Waste. She also founded a company called Think Zero to help for the cause of zero waste. The APA plans to make Avenues 90% diverted from waste by 2021. This is very ambitious, so how will the APA do it?
“The APA Zero Waste Committee has developed a Zero Waste plan that goes through 2025 and sets specific Zero Waste goals for the school with a plan to get there. We are already hitting some of the milestones. We are also fostering a community where less waste is generated, one that promotes a circular economy where materials are reused over and over again until the end of their useful life, at which time they are recycled into new projects.”
The APA Zero Waste Committee has always been committed to zero waste since the beginning, and now we see in the world that there are more reasons to be more committed to zero waste.
“Given the state of our world with the crisis of plastic pollution in our waterways and on land, and the effects of climate change, Avenues has to step up and be a part of the solution,” Currie-Halpern said. “We are making big changes like switching the school over to durable, dishwashable plates and cutlery so that we can eliminate the huge amount of waste we are creating each day eating off of disposables in FOOD and around the school. We are also buying and collecting more second hand and recycled materials as a school.”
At Avenues, we are making changes big and small to go Zero Waste, but what might be the effect?
“It might reduce our dependence on carbon transportation upstream and downstream, which means less shipping, and reducing waste means less reliance on garbage trucks which pollute a lot. In many cases it will reduce costs, as well,” Currie-Halpern said.
A lot of people might not have thought of the positive aspect to going Zero Waste or using less waste; it costs less for you.
Do you think people are noticing these changes, or are they going unnoticed? Yes I think they are noticing we get a good amount of emails and feedback, but I think many at Avenues don’t know what we are doing and we need that to change. We also need a lot more help In the way of student and parent volunteers.
Will going Zero Waste raise awareness on its own, or will some people need to raise awareness? I think within our community we cannot go Zero waste successfully (ie divert 90% of our waste from landfill and incineration) without everyone buying in and participating, from the Head of School (Evan Glazer has been very supportive), to Upper Grades students, to Lower Division teachers, to ELC parents and everyone in between!”
At Avenues, you can make a difference by doing very small things. Here are few tips from Mrs. Currie-Halpern.
Don’t put more food than you can eat on your plate at lunch.
Save leftover food for a snack later or throw it in the compost bin. Educate yourself on what materials are compostable. There are so many things that are, such as tea bags, tissues and even gum!
Bring your own water bottle and refill it every day. Bring your own coffee mug if you drink coffee. Don’t buy plastic water bottles. Switch to reusable bottles, bags, cups, and utensils instead of single use ones.”
Jessica Berkeley, a teacher almost since the beginning of Avenues, thinks these changes are great.
“We used to have just one trash can- it was vague what could be recycled. Now, garbage cans have very distinct purposes. That’s a great step forward. When Avenues founded, the goal has been to use less paper. We use a lot of technology, and part of it is using less paper,” Berkeley said.
Avenues is serious about going Zero Waste, and we see that not only people within the administration care, but also students, faculty, and parents. I encourage you to do more research about going Zero Waste, and trying to go zero waste yourself, as it is a very interesting and important topic at Avenues and in the world in general.