Skip To Main Content
Girl talking

As a result of classroom projects undertaken by 6th graders at Lincoln Middle School, AUSD is implementing a number of changes in its food and waste practices. 

With support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Guardian Program,* 162 LMS students in Jenny Hartigan's class first learned about the effects of energy use on climate change and developed individual Climate Action Plans, such as taking shorter showers. After several weeks of implementing behavioral changes at home, students reduced their carbon footprint by an average of 4%.  

Next, students worked on Climate Action Projects for the whole campus.  The assignment was to identify a climate-related food and/or waste problem at the site, research a solution, and educate students and local community members about the issue. 

Food waste, for those who don’t know, contributes to climate change because as food decomposes in the landfill, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. To reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and food insecurity, environmentalists recommend reducing the amount of organic matter in landfills by reducing the amount of food thrown away and composting that food which has to be thrown away. 

AUSD has a system-wide “green waste” program, through which students and staff are encouraged to sort their waste into gray bins (landfill), blue bins (recycling), and green bins (compost). But with the pandemic and remote learning, some students have fallen out of practice or were not trained how to sort properly.

Working in groups, students identified several root causes of food waste on their campus, including:  

  • Students are required to take a fruit or vegetable when they buy a school lunch (it’s federal law), and if they don’t want it, they throw it away 

  • When they throw it away, they put it in the trash bin instead of the compost bin or sharing it with others, because: 

  • They’re in a rush or  

  • They don’t remember how to sort trash 

  • Students don’t always have enough time to eat a full lunch 

After talking to food service staff  and the head custodian at Lincoln, students generated a number of solutions for food waste at Lincoln, including: 

  • Bringing back a salad bar (which had been discontinued during the pandemic) so that students can choose the produce they want (this will also reduce single-use packaging)  

  • Starting systems to share or donate food that they don’t want 

  • Replacing single-use packaging for items served at school 

  • Re-training students how to sort waste correctly and give them time to do so 

  • Starting a system on campus to compost food waste weekly 

Several groups also worked on the issue of water waste both on campus and at home.  

Students created videos, slide shows, posters, and comic strips to share their work with other Lincoln students (videos were shown to students during their advisory periods). During Earth Week, some students created a lunchtime booth to engage the student body in sorting lunch waste. Other students presented a game about waste sorting during Open House.  And some shared their education materials with students at local elementary schools. 

 As part of their assignments, students were also asked to collaborate with organizations outside of their class to help implement their solutions. One group of students, for instance, contacted Dig Deep Farms, a social-enterprise program that grows and distributes healthy food in San Leandro, to pick up extra food periodically to share with food-insecure community members. Another group contacted StopWaste to get food share carts and training for the campus.   

Due to the students' advocacy, AUSD’s Food & Nutrition Services Department is implementing a number of climate-friendly initiatives, including:

  • Signing an agreement with Dig Deep Farms to periodically pick up extra food across all our campuses. (AUSD also has a donation agreement with Food Shift, out at Alameda Point.)

  • Re-establishing share tables (for uneaten, unopened items), as well as salad bars stocked with a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, at all campuses 

  • Replacing plastic forks and spoons served with school lunches with compostable ones 

These changes are helping AUSD come into compliance with Senate Bill 1383 – which requires school districts reduce organic waste and donate excess edible food to a food recovery organization -- well before the January 2024 deadline. 

“It’s been an absolute pleasure working with the students of Ms. Hartigan’s class at Lincoln Middle School," says James Assia, AUSD's Director of Food & Nutrition Services. "The students are extremely passionate about finding ways to help our environment. With their help, we have made some great progress  in a short amount of time. I’m excited to continue making positive changes not only at Lincoln Middle School but district wide.

 To expand the impact of their projects, students were also asked to share their work with the City or County of Alameda, including elected officials. Students in Ms. Hartigan’s class reached Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, and the city’s councilmembers. 

“The students inspire me with their creativity and willingness to take risks as they solve problems at Lincoln and in our community,” Ms. Hartigan says. “By identifying problems, engaging intergenerational groups of people, and collaborating on solutions, youth will have an impact on climate change.” 

The Ocean Guardian School program awards small grants to K-12 schools to carry out hands-on stewardship projects that help to protect the health of local watersheds, our global ocean and special ocean areas such as national marine sanctuaries. Learn more about the Ocean Guardian School program, on NOAA's website.