Students Take the Lead and Persevere to Sustainably Be a Part of the Solution
Protecting the environment has always been important to Bronxville senior Remi Mellinghoff. She credits her grandmother, who lives in Germany, for modeling what it means to personally and globally approach life through a sustainable lens. So it makes sense that when Remi was a freshman in 2019, she quickly set out to find ways to make an impact.
Many students will tell you that the high school clubs offer freshmen an opportunity to explore and engage in their interests, while also connecting with other students who they might not otherwise interact with depending on their other interests and school commitments. Leading with the spirit of connection and engagement, as a freshman, Remi approached some of the students in her Earth Science class with the idea of starting a team that focuses on sustainable initiatives. She found several sophomores who were more than ready to sign up.
The students decided the first step was to formulate a plan that focused on a recycling program in the building. “When we had our first meeting, we discussed areas in the school that could benefit from greener practices. The one issue that kept coming up was the amount of waste we produce. Our thinking, at the time, was to reduce the amount of waste by increasing recycling,” said Remi.
The plan, however, changed once they looked into just how much waste was being generated. After meeting with Mike Lee, Head of Maintenance at Bronxville School, they learned that recyclables and commingled recyclables created .5-1.5 tons of waste, while non-recyclable waste made 36 tons of trash every week. “What we realized through the process was that recyclables made up only a small part of the total waste amount. After gathering all the data, the statistics were staggering,” said Remi, who went on to add, “In order to really make a difference we needed to think about ways to reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste, like food. This was when our idea for a food scrap recycling program was born.”
A unique feature of the Bronxville School is that all three schools not only share the same building, but also cafeteria space. This means that the majority of waste is not only centralized, but it makes possible the engagement of every grade level in supporting sustainability.
Sometimes big ideas can lead to complexity when it comes to execution. After much research and due diligence, the high schoolers faced their first hurdle; due to health safety concerns, managing a food scrapping program was not possible to do properly on-site at the school. Determined not to be deterred, they started looking into off-site hauling companies that pick up food scraps and deliver to local composting sites.
After connecting with leaders in the area who had started numerous off-site composting programs for public institutions, and researching hauling vendors, the students then utilized the school’s existing partnership with Greenburgh Nature Center to gather additional resources to leverage educational support.
Using the knowledge gained, they presented a plan to the leadership at Bronxville Elementary to pilot an education series dedicated to food scrapping for elementary students. Together, they wrote a grant proposal to the Bronxville School Foundation to fund a pilot food scrap recycling program that would have two components: educational instruction for the elementary students and implementation of an off-site hauling composting program to reduce the amount of food waste in the school cafeteria. “There is an increased value to providing recycling and waste reduction education to younger school-aged children. Our hope is that there will be a higher chance of awareness and retention during the formative years of elementary school students,” said Remi.
The Bronxville School Foundation awarded the grant in 2021, but due to COVID restrictions- where lunch was taking place in classrooms- the program had to be put on hold. Once the restrictions were lifted, and students returned to the cafeteria, the club members and administration decided to start the program after the school community had a chance to settle back into a normal routine.
The program will finally launch this month, starting with a Be3 kickoff assembly featuring Greenburgh Nature Center on November 18th. On November 28th, the food scrapping bins will be delivered to the school. Rakiya Adams, Bronxville Elementary Principal, is thrilled the program has come to fruition, “We are very excited to see the program come together. It has been a long time coming. The hard work and passion that the students have put in has been admirable to observe. Starting the program in the ES to create the sustainability of the program is incredibly smart. Our students are ready to take this on and the educational components that are aligned to this work are tremendous. I'm incredibly excited to start this work in the ES and look forward to seeing where it takes us!”
While most of the original team members graduated last year, Remi will have the privilege and satisfaction of seeing the fruits of their labor realized in her last year as a Bronxville student. As a true reflection of her dedication and perseverance, she is making sure the program is left in good hands. Julia Perry and Tony Tao, who are working with Remi this year, will take the reins next year as seniors to continue the work to grow connection, engagement, and community at Bronxville School.