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(Salinas, CA) Jesse G. Sánchez Elementary School, and its staff and students have been named the 2020 recipients of the California Resource Recovery Association’s (CRRA) Outstanding School Recycling Program Award.

Picture above are some staff from Alisal School District Nutrition Services, Jesse G. Sanchez Elementary School, and Salinas Valley Recycles who collaborated to make this project a success. (Left to right: Irene Vargas, Tina Wallace, Roberto Rodriguez- Flores, Estela Gutierrez)

Picture above are some staff from Alisal School District Nutrition Services, Jesse G. Sanchez Elementary School, and Salinas Valley Recycles who collaborated to make this project a success. (Left to right: Irene Vargas, Tina Wallace, Roberto Rodriguez- Flores, Estela Gutierrez)

This award is presented to a school, individual or entity partnered with a school that has excelled in implementing and carrying out a recycling and/or diversion program. The award will be presented at the CRRA Annual Conference, which will be held virtually this August. School Principal Roberto Rodríguez-Flores has been invited to accept the award and deliver a brief presentation.

The school was nominated for the award by Salinas Valley Recycles (SVR) to recognize the outstanding work of Jesse G. Sánchez School in Salinas for implementing changes to reduce waste on campus; they were the first school in the Salinas Valley to implement a comprehensive food waste collection program. SVR conducted waste assessments for the school and developed strategies to implement and enhance programs to help the school achieve its zero-waste goals. SVR identified the greatest opportunities to eliminate waste through recycling, reuse and edible food recovery, to divert cafeteria waste from the landfill. Sustainable strategies include the Traveling Apple Policy, Sharing Rack, Milk Waste Collection, Milk Carton Recycling, Food Waste Composting, Mixed Recycling, Reusable Trays and Reusable Sporks.

Implementing the plan was a collaboration between the Alisal Union School District Nutrition Services, Salinas Valley Recycles and Jesse G. Sánchez School. Several staff voiced concerns about food safety and the District worked with the local and state health departments to ensure food safety guidelines were met. The SVR resource recovery team was on campus for three weeks to help implement the program and trained more than 850 students and 50 staff to separate waste streams including food, milk, recycling, and trash. The program engages fifth graders to help teach the younger students how to properly separate and recycle. Although the program is on hiatus during the pandemic, it will serve as a model when operations return to normal at the District.

The school met its goal of becoming a zero-waste school by incorporating the Traveling Apple Policy, which was an initiative mandated by the Alisal School District Nutrition Services Director, Irene Vargas. Edible food is diverted into a food sharing station called the Sharing Rack in the cafeteria. Students place unwanted/unopened sealed and unbitten items into the Sharing Rack and students can grab these food and beverage items at no cost during mealtime. The Traveling Apple Policy allows students to take home a whole piece of fruit and grain or bagged vegetables and grain to eat at a later time. Edible hot food (unopened/uneaten food) can also be shared during meal times according to the Monterey County Health Department Code (HSC 114079C).

Food scraps make up the largest amount of waste, previously sent to the landfill. The district added a commercial food waste program and bought compostable bags to line the food waste bins to make it easier, safer and cleaner for the custodial staff. Waste hauling service provider Republic Services of Salinas helped incentivize the inception of the food waste collection program at the school by providing two free weeks of food waste collection.

Milk waste accounted for a significant amount of waste by weight and the empty milk cartons by volume, previously sent to the landfill. The Milk Waste Diversion program engages the students to empty any liquids (milk, juice and water) from their containers. The custodial staff empties the liquid collection bins in the sanitary sewer system, and milk cartons are recycled. Students are also encouraged to finish their milk, and not to take milk they do not want.

The school has replaced plastic spork packets with reusable stainless-steel sporks and implemented a paper napkin dispenser to replace the spork package waste (disposable spork, straw, napkin & wrapper). SVR sponsored the purchase of 1,320 reusable “sporks” for the school. Reusable trays have been the norm at Jesse Sanchez since day one and are used daily for breakfast, lunch and supper. Dirty reusable trays and sporks are washed after each meal with an on-site commercial dishwasher. Reusable dishware uses less energy and resources over its lifetime than disposable. It also reduces the garbage volume, number of plastic bags, frequency of the custodian replacing plastic bags, and garbage disposal costs.

Currently 75% of all cafeteria waste is diverted, and just 25% goes to the landfill. The school was able to reduce their weekly waste pickup services from 5 days per week down to 3, cutting weekly garbage disposal by 40%, increasing recycling by 50%, and introducing food waste collection.

Diverting food waste from the landfill helps the school meet the state’s requirements under AB 1826 and SB 1383, as well as reduce their waste disposal costs. By diverting food scraps from the trash to the composting program, along with the recycling and waste reduction efforts, the school will save approximately $660.00 per month, for an estimated annual savings of $7,920.00.

“Jesse Sanchez School successfully adopted the Traveling Apple Policy by implementing a sharing rack to help reduce edible food waste at Jesse Sanchez. This program was well received by the students and staff and we plan to implement similar waste reduction strategies in the District’s eleven schools in the near future.  The long-term cost savings of these programs will help our District and the Salinas Valley become more sustainable and efficient,’ explains Nutrition Service Director, Irene Vargas.

Patrick Mathews, Chief Administrative Officer at SVR states, “Our agency uses this success story as an example to increase public awareness and positively influence change. Other schools are taking note of the impact and want to follow suit.”  SVR offers no-cost waste assessment services to help local businesses and schools in the Salinas Valley recognize their opportunities and implement programs to reduce waste and meet new State mandates to reduce waste to landfills and greenhouse gases.