You’re not going to find many plastic bags, paper napkins or one-use water bottles in students’ lunch boxes at Edison and Will Rogers elementary schools.
The Santa Monica schools are participating in a yearlong competition between 22 campuses across Southern California to reduce waste during mid-day meals.
The fifth-annual Trash-Free Lunch Challenge is organized by Grades of Green, an environmental education nonprofit that aims to teach students about sustainability and eco-friendly lifestyle habits through a variety of school-based activities and initiatives.
The organization estimates that the participating schools will divert 225 tons of waste from landfills as a result of their efforts this year, an average of more than 10 tons per campus.
How? At Edison and Will Rogers, students will be encouraged to bring their lunches in reusable containers, drink from reusable water bottles and wipe their hands with cloth napkins. Children who buy or receive school lunches will also participate by recycling and composting.
A panel of environmental experts will evaluate waste reduction levels at the participating campuses and determine three honorees. The grand-prize winner will receive a $1,000 grant, the runner-up school will get $750 and the third-place campus will be awarded $500.
NBA All-Star Steve Nash and LA Galaxy soccer player Omar Gonzalez visited last year’s winning schools, according to a Grades of Green press release.
The City of Santa Monica is a sponsor of the program.
Grades of Green sees the lunch challenge as having an impact beyond the schools because the students can influence their friends, families and neighbors to make eco-friendly lifestyle choices.
This marks the first year of participation for Edison, which got involved after a school parent contacted Grades of Green. The organization then reached out to principal Lori Orum, who wanted to provide more enrichment for students in environmental sustainability.
Edison had previously partnered with the City of Santa Monica to compost food waste at lunch, and the school also had a student-led “green team” for years. But those initiatives faded when major construction began on the Virginia Avenue campus, a Santa Monica-Malibu school district site known for its dual-immersion language curriculum.
“We didn’t have the ability to keep all aspects of our program in place,” Orum said. “Now that the school is finished and we have an edible garden area on the horizon, we thought our systems could use a tune-up and our program could be expanded with some additional curriculum. I particularly liked the curriculum extensions and the emphasis on student leadership in the Grades of Green program.”
For Orum, the lunch challenge complements the environmentally conscious amenities that highlight new facilities at the school. A campaign kickoff event is set for Oct. 21.
“The new Edison school has many features designed to reduce our carbon footprint, and the idea has always been to use the features of the school to teach about energy conservation and environmental stewardship,” Orum said.
Orum said school officials are planning to expand sustainability programming as garden space becomes available in the coming months.
An attempt to reach Will Rogers principal Elizabeth Cochran was not successful.
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.