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  • Writer's pictureSimone Tenorio

Less Organic Waste = Lower Carbon Emissions

Updated: May 25, 2023

SWEP Students Work with TTUSD to Divert Food Waste from Local Landfills

Research shows that 33% of all human-caused methane emissions come from our food system and methane is 30 times more powerful at trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Thus, diverting organic waste from our landfills is beneficial not only for overall waste reduction in our region, but is essential for reducing the impact of carbon emissions on climate change – and Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships (SWEP) students are doing just that.

“I am on the Green Team because I love helping the environment. I love working on projects that are for a good cause, and I love making a difference in my community.” - Shayla Bailey, Kings Beach Elementary School

In keeping with its eco-minded mission to protect and enhance the environment, California passed two ordinances in an effort to reduce methane emissions – Assembly Bill (AB 827) and Senate Bill (SB 1383), requiring the separation and proper disposal of organic waste, as well as the reduction of organic waste methane emissions, respectively. However, extra funding to implement new waste diversion systems was not made available, posing a challenge to local schools and businesses to adhere to the requirements of AB 827 and SB 1383.

In response to the need for compliance, SWEP offered to partner with schools in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District (TTUSD) to implement new waste diversion and carbon reduction requirements. When SWEP approached the school district with the proposal to work together, we were met with hesitation and doubt as schools already have their hands full with their primary concern: educating and feeding students. Schools asked: “How does one implement a waste diversion program of such magnitude smoothly and successfully?” SWEP knew that educating students and staff would be the key! This is where SWEP’s Sustainability Clubs, long standing staples of environmental advocacy and education in our local schools for the past 15 years, came into play. SWEP’s Sustainability Club students play a crucial role in mentoring sustainable change in a school and community as they provide support in educating other students, teachers and parents about important environmental issues, creating outreach far beyond the boundaries of a school, to the community and into homes.

SWEP Program Director, Ashley Phillips, is ready to guide Sustainability Club students through the waste-separation process at Truckee Elementary School.

"I am a part of the Green Team because I love project based learning. I also enjoy reusing waste to create projects including "box houses”. I look forward to learning more about the Earth and ways to make it a better and more sustainable place to live.” - Bryce Baker, Glenshire Elementary School
Stella Tieslau and Poppy Brokaw weigh organic food waste at North Tahoe School.

Since the inception of the carbon reduction program in 2021, and with the help of committed student club members, SWEP has successfully implemented food waste separation programs in the cafeterias at 5 local elementary schools, totaling 1,942 students who now separate their organic waste in cafeterias. And SWEP has received vital support from partnering agencies along the way! Tahoe Truckee Airport Community Partner (TTAD) — an organization who has pledged to reduce their own carbon footprint and provide sustained benefit to the entire Truckee Tahoe region – wanted to help the school district and joined in this effort to reach all North Tahoe and Truckee schools. SWEP has also partnered successfully in this effort for many years with the Town of Truckee, the TTUSD school administration, school food services, and custodial staff. Together we have planned, organized, and prepared materials. We’ve created organic waste-sorting tables, posters, labels, and smart sorting recycling bins, joining the student effort to implement food waste separation properly and successfully.

“I joined the Sustainability Club because I care about the environment and I want to learn how to be a more effective leader.” - Leah Cohen, Sierra Expeditionary Learning School
Students at Tahoe Lake Elementary prepare to guide their peers through the organic waste-separation process.

SWEP Sustainability Club students continue to monitor fellow school members to assure they understand the process and the importance behind the need to separate food waste. This winter, for instance, Sustainability Club members conducted Lunch Waste Audits, weighing the amount of organic and inorganic waste produced from school and home-packed lunches during mealtimes at their schools. The proof is in the data: thanks to the support of our partners, over 75 pounds of food waste per day – equaling more than 13,000 pounds of organic waste annually – is now being successfully diverted from our local landfills and being composted, denoting true progress for our schools and for our region.

"Listening and learning about the lunch waste audit day results from Kings Beach, Truckee, Glenshire Elementary schools and Sierra Expeditionary Learning School students was outstanding! Each group had great feedback to share how to reduce lunch waste both from home and school from their one day audits of the cafeteria trash and compost. Working together, we are hoping to survey students on what their school menu hits and misses are. Our Green Teams are invaluable, helping us reduce waste by increasing awareness." - Kat Soltanmorad, TTUSD Director of Food and Nutrition
TTUSD Director of Food and Nutrition, Kat Soltanmorad, celebrates with Glenshire Elementary School students after a presentation of their lunch waste audit findings.

“I am on the Green Team because I want to help the earth and stop littering so people can enjoy nature with out having to pick up trash or just leave it there. It is important that people take care of our planet so it is as beautiful as when humans first came to earth.” - Lyla Griswold, Truckee Elementary School

All of us at Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships thank our partners, the Truckee Tahoe Airport Community Partner, TTUSD, the Town of Truckee, Placer County, the Clif Family Foundation, and the Patchwork Collective for their continued support in implementing methane reduction and other environmental stewardship programs in local schools. As SWEP’s name suggests, we could not do the work that we do without our partnerships, which are vital to the continued success of our programs.

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