By Quinn Heinrich
On June 12, 2018, DC’s Department of General Services (DGS) released the DCPS Recycles! Honor Roll, sharing the state of recycling in schools across the District. The 2018 Honor Roll includes DCPS schools that demonstrate, at a minimum, school-wide recycling of paper in classrooms and common areas or organics and mixed recyclables in cafeterias and kitchens. The best of these schools made the Honor Roll with Distinction for recycling paper, cardboard mixed recyclables throughout the school and organics in their cafeterias and kitchens.
Standing out on this year’s 57-school Honor Roll was Mann Elementary School, who was chosen by DGS as its DCPS Recycles! Honor Roll Success Story. Located in Northwest DC’s Wesley Heights neighborhood, Mann has joined former DCPS Recycles! Success Stories Burroughs Elementary School and CW Harris Elementary School as a DCPS Recycles! Ambassador School, who openly invite other DCPS schools to their buildings to learn about how they Recycle Right. Mann has also participated in several DGS recycling competitions, including the Reduce First! Challenge: Lunch Edition in 2016.
Mann’s success is made possible by everyone in the school playing a part enthusiastically in recycling, starting with the Principal, Liz Whisnant, who is a firm believer in empowering students through sustainability and recycling. It took just one meeting with the DGS Schools Conservation Coordinator in 2011 for her to learn and start implementing DGS’ 5 Steps to Recycle Right.
The fifth of these steps, which says that correctly sorting waste is the responsibility of every individual, has been masterfully imparted to everyone at Mann. At lunch, students approach three cans rather than one to dispose of their waste. Uneaten food goes into a marked compost bin, bottles and cans go into recycling, and the little waste that remains is sorted into the landfill bin (Whisnant specifically had this bin marked “landfill” rather than “trash” so that it could make an impression on the students). Unconsumed liquids are dumped into a bucket and compostable trays are stacked separately, cutting down on the weight and volume of the bags.
Sabrada Brewer, the kitchen manager, and Greg Bellamy, the maintenance foreman, oversee that this is all done efficiently. Bellamy then takes the bins and empties them into larger dumpsters (still separating trash, recycling, and compost) so that the waste can be taken to respective facilities. Bellamy says that his job is actually easier when the waste is sorted because it makes all of the bags lighter and doesn’t overload of the dumpsters. “I hope we never go back to the old system,” he said. “I love the new system.”
Taking it a step further, Mann also does food recovery at lunch. Although some of the students’ uneaten food ends up in the yellow organics recycling bin, unopened and uneaten items are set aside when students clear their trays. At the end of lunch, Georgette Blake, the school’s nutritionist, and a group of volunteer fourth graders box up all of the uneaten and unopened food items to be stored in their special food recovery refrigerator. Four times a week, this food is collected by volunteers through the Food Rescue US app and delivered to local hunger organizations Campus Kitchen and Charlie’s Place.
While food recovery is not officially considered part of the DCPS Recycles! standard program, some DCPS schools like Mann have integrated recovery into their regular cafeteria sorting, enabling the school to do good for the community and further reduce waste produced. This is a best practice that aligns with the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy, which shows that, though compost is a good practice, feeding hungry people is a better use of leftover food.
Mann’s sustainability initiatives go beyond just recycling and food recovery. Mann was recently renovated by DGS to be a LEED Gold certified building, and has numerous plants indoors, farms and gardens on campus, bee hives, and even chickens!
All of this enables teaching about sustainability to be very easy. The students learn about composting early on, and the separating waste into landfill, recycling, and organics bins quickly becomes the norm for the students. The students who are involved in food recovery are excited to do it, and they understand the positive consequences their actions have. “It’s a win-win: one person doesn’t want something, and they can give it away to another person,” one student said. “My favorite part about composting is helping other people.”
Overall, the sustainability programs at Mann Elementary are some of the best in the city, and they incorporate food recovery efficiently through the enthusiastic involvement of everybody in the school. The level of engagement around sustainability at Mann will enable their young students to continue to help move DC towards its sustainability goals as they grow.
DCPS Recycles!, a DC Department of General Services Program, provides supplies, support, and hauling services to enable all DC Public Schools to recycle, and offers technical assistance to public charter schools.
Want to know more? Visit DCPS Recycles! online.