Saving the Environment, One Cafeteria at a Time

Saving the Environment, One Cafeteria at a Time

Silverbrook Elementary School runs effective recycling program.

Aaron Srance of Lorton volunteers during Silverbrook Elementary School’s lunch recycling program.

Aaron Srance of Lorton volunteers during Silverbrook Elementary School’s lunch recycling program. Photo by Janelle Germanos

Students at Silverbrook Elementary School in Fairfax Station are learning the value of recycling and helping the environment, thanks to school media specialist Valerie Finney, other teachers, and volunteers who are assisting in the effort to reduce waste.

Three years ago, Finney attended a Get2Green meeting, a Fairfax County Public Schools environmental education initiative. She was interested in ways to help the environment and reduce waste, and came up with the idea of starting a recycling program in the school’s cafeteria.

According to federal law, Finney said, schools were unable to collect unopened food, but the law changed three years ago, which allowed her to begin the program.

“We thought we would test it the first year after spring break until the last day of school,” Finney said. “After we started, there was no going back.”

Now, thanks to Finney’s careful planning and help from volunteers, the program is in full-swing. After eating lunch, students line up in the cafeteria and place recyclable items from their meal in the proper containers with the help of volunteers. Unopened utensil packets are also collected and redistributed the next day.

VOLUNTEERS also collect unopened food from students. The program strictly follows health code laws, and the unopened, unused food is placed in the program’s own refrigerator and picked up by the Lorton Community Action Center, who then gives the products to their clients.

“It’s terrific. It really helps them because dairy products are expensive,” Finney said. “We can donate items like string cheese, milk cartons, yogurt, and juice.”

Linda Patterson, the executive director of the Lorton Community Action Center, said the program is great because it teaches children not to waste and helps families served by LCAC. Many families served by LCAC also have children that attend school at Silverbrook.

“The most obvious benefit is that LCAC receives things from that program that we don’t always get, such as the milk. That milk is a huge help to families, because we don’t receive that much as far as fresh milk,” Patterson said. “I would like to see all of the schools do this type of program, whether it goes to LCAC or another non-profit in their area.”

Finney started the program because she wanted to reduce the amount of waste that was incinerated in Lorton, where all Fairfax County waste eventually ends up.

The program relies on volunteers because all of the sorting would be too complicated for the children, Finney said.

Aaron Srance, a college student from Lorton whose mother teaches at Silverbrook, is volunteering for the program during his winter break.

“It’s a great way to help the environment,” Srance said. “I wish my elementary school would have done this when I was there.”

Joanne Stanley, a teacher at Silverbrook, volunteers every Monday for the program.

“I believe in the cause,” Stanley said. “The food that could be wasted is pitiful.”

It was that similar concern of wasting food and waste that led Finney to establish the program, which just last week donated 70 cartons of milk to the LCAC.

THE PROGRAM also ties in with the Virginia Standards of Learning.

“There is a huge recycling and renewable energy component in the SOLS,” Finney said.

Finney said that the students are excited about the recycling program, and some students participate in the school’s G-Force team, which collects recycling bins every day from each classroom.

“It is really a collaborative effort. We work with the cafeteria, custodians, parents and volunteers to run the program,” Finney sad.

According to Finney, the school has seen a reduction in its overall waste since starting the program.

Finney has also started a garden at Silverbrook Elementary, where students grew pumpkins and radishes in October.