Garden City students are saving the environment, one tray at a time


Recently, the fifth-grade students in Rod DaSilva's classroom at Garden City Elementary School were studying about ecosystems as part of their science curriculum. It was during one of those lessons that the students learned about styrofoam, and just how bad it was for the environment. The more they learned, the more concerning it was.

And then, they went to lunch.

In the lunchroom the students realized that styrofoam trays were being used for school lunches. They immediately thought of the facts they'd learned in class, and realized something needed to be done, and quickly.

Furthermore, they realized that not only were styrofoam trays being used in the lunchroom, but they were not being recycled. Upon further fact-finding, they realized that to recycle styrofoam was not an easy process. It had to be cleaned and separated and delivered to the landfill separately from other recyclables. It was not an easy process, and didn't seem feasible. Therefore, they decided to go in a different direction altogether.

Five students, Jack Zukowski, Andrew Pappas, Leah Bucci, MJ Guglietti, Jennifer Tran, and Cate McDonough talked to DaSilva, who helped to set up a meeting with Principal Tonianne Napolitano and the school custodian. A Google slides presentation was created citing research and solutions for helping the environment by recycling at the school.

"We had noticed that nothing was being recycled in the lunchroom," said McDonough.

"We saw up to three bags of garbage being thrown away per lunch," Zukowski said.

According to Pappas, a letter to the school lunch provider, Aramark, solved the problem of styrofoam trays being used in the lunchroom.

Principal Tonianne Napolitano gave the students the go-ahead after their meeting.

"This initiative was created by the students with the guidance from Mr. DaSilva," Principal Napalitano said. "They wrote me a letter about how the recycling program needed to be modified and asked for my permission. I met with class representatives from Room Six and gave them my blessing and they report to me on how it’s going."

After meeting with Principal Napolitano and sending their letter to Aramark, the students set to work, and immediately saw a change.

"We got to lunch one day and there were no more styrofoam trays," Pappas said.

As it turns out, the second lunch period was the only one using styrofoam, something that had been started because of a time issue.

"We thought that both lunches had styrofoam trays," Bucci said. "But it turns out they were using plastic in the first lunch period and washing them, but not having enough time to dry them before the second lunch period came in, so they were using styrofoam for our lunch."

Now that the addition of plastic trays in the second lunch period had solved that problem, the students focused their efforts on helping to streamline the lunchroom process so that the lunch trash could be recycled instead of thrown away.

"Once we got rid of the styrofoam, we moved on to the milk and juice cartons as well as the paper bags," said Pappas.

A big recycling bin was brought in, and the students started an assembly line of sorts, helping the younger students to sort their trash at dismissal time.

"We started to help the little kids out at the end of their lunch period, letting them know what can be recycled and what can be thrown away. We help them, but we're also trying to make them more independent with it too," said Zukowski.

In addition to the lunchtime trash, just last week two of the students, Tran and Guglietti, also helped out with recycling the trash from the breakfast program as well, according to Guglietti.

"Every class has a recycling bin in their classroom too," said Zukowski. "We realized that the bins were even labeled with what to recycle, but they weren't being used. Now we are helping with that."

The students have seen a big difference since instituting their recycling program.

"The recycling bin is almost full now and we only need two trash cans, and none of them are completely full, at most they are half full," Pappas said.

As time has gone on, the students have gotten the kinks out and developed a streamlined process, assigning jobs to each of the students in their group.

"I dump the trays and pass them to Jack to give them to the staff in the kitchen," said Bucci. "Andrew inspects the paper bags to make sure there is nothing in them and that they are dry and unstained."

"MJ and I will dump the milks and help them empty them into the bucket and put them into the recycling bin," said McDonough.

Although it was a tough system to start and implement at first, the students report that after introducing it class by class in grades 3, 4 and 5, and as a whole group in the lunchroom for grades K, 1 and 2, they have now gotten the kinks out and all agree that an impact has been made, school-wide.

"I am so proud of these students. They are so responsible and mature and care so much about this program. They are teaching the other children how to recycle-it really has become a community service project," said Principal Napolitano.

Although not for a few months still, the fifth-graders will soon be leaving Garden City School for middle school, and it is their hope that the recycling program will become automatic by then, and that this year's fourth-graders will help to continue it next year when they become fifth-graders themselves.

To keep up with the students' progress in their recycling program, follow their blog at


That can be recycled: Several of the fifth grade students help their younger peers empty the milk from their milk cartons, remove the straws and recycle the cartons. (Herald photos by Jen Cowart)

Checking bags: All paper bags that are empty of trash and unstained can be recycled, and Andrew Pappas makes sure that they are by checking them as students move through the line.

A well-oiled machine: The fifth-grade students, assisted by custodian Chris Yattaw, help to make the new recycling process run smoothly during both lunch periods, with every student having a specific role, including inspecting bags, dumping trash, and emptying milk and straws from cartons.


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