Our Neighbors: Weymouth Textiles’ School Box Program

Original post from the GREEN TEAM Spotlight – 

Since 2006, Weymouth Public Schools have partnered with Bay State Textiles’ School Box Program. Bay State Textiles installed textile bins at all of Weymouth’s schools, and pays $100/ton for collected materials. As of last month, the resulting partnership had diverted 481 tons of useful material, and earned Weymouth Public Schools nearly $50,000. Additionally, it has kept these materials out of the trash, saving the Town another $50,000 in disposal costs.

Weymouth Public Schools launched their textile recycling program as a contest between the schools. The district engaged various community businesses and institutions to sponsor a $500 bonus award to the top performing school based on student ratio. The school administration has continuously publicized the program through the Weymouth Public Schools website, Weymouth Pride Newsletter, banners, flyers at schools and community partners locations, public cable “information scrolls”, press releases, and phone calls.

Read more about the implementation of this program in the Weymouth Public Schools Textile Recycling Case Study published by the MassDEP.

Our Neighbors: “Ashland High senior looks to curb emissions by prodding drivers about not running cars while parked”

Original post from The Metro West Daily News – 

By Cesareo Contreras / 
Daily News Staff, Jan 30, 2020

Ashland High School senior Molly Gun has made it her mission to encourage people to curb a common habit that many don’t realize takes a toll on the environment.

ASHLAND – For some people, combating the effects of climate change can seem like a daunting task. But the way Molly Gun sees it, even small actions can have a large impact. Since last May, the Ashland High School senior has made it her mission to encourage people to curb a common habit that many don’t realize takes a toll on the environment: allowing their cars and trucks to idle.

Using a $500 grant she received from the Merlyn Education and Climate Protection Project, a Rhode Island nonprofit, Gun has spread the word throughout her school of the environmental benefits of not idling. And for the past few weeks, she has been attending meetings with the town’s Sustainability Committee trying to integrate her mission with the town’s resolution of completely offsetting its emissions by 2040.

“I chose idling because it’s really just mindless and with a little bit of mindfulness it’s an issue that could be dramatically reduced.” Gun, 18, said in a recent interview.

Running a car for more than 10 minutes is worse for the environment than actually driving it at 30 mph, Gun said. Drivers who leave their cars running for more than 15 seconds actually end up wasting more gas than if they were to restart their engines, she said.

Transportation remains the largest-growing source of greenhouse emissions in the state, making up more than 40% of them, according to Katie Gronendyke, press secretary for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Personal vehicles in the U.S. generate about 30 million tons of carbon dioxide every year from idling alone, according to the U.S. Department of Energy & Renewable Energy. Under state law, motorists who allow their vehicles to idle for more than 5 minutes can be fined $100 for a first offense. Second and subsequent offenses are subject to higher fines.

Ashland High School has two signs in front of the school, where students get on buses, describing the law and the associated penalties. But there are no signs in the back of the school, where many students are picked up.

Using the grant, Gun created stickers and air fresheners with the phrase: “Be mindful: Don’t idle. Turn off your engine.” She was able to post the signs outside her school, encouraging parents and students to turn off their engines while waiting inside their vehicle. She is also drafting a brief letter in hopes of having it included in weekly emails the school sends to parents.

“Well this is our future, basically,” said Gun. “It gets scarier and scarier every day, especially when you don’t see people making the changes that they need to. It just seems like we are at a standstill and a lot of times, it’s easy to feel like we are stuck and nothing is getting done.”

High School Principal Kelley St. Couer said she would gladly include Gun’s letter in her emails to parents. “I think it’s a great idea. I applaud her and the other kids that are always working on ways to help the environment,” she said.

As part of the Merlyn Education and Climate Protection Project, Gun was assigned a mentor. Grants Director Jim Stahl thought the best person for the job was Sharon Gold, of South Kingstown, Rhode Island, who worked to get an anti-idling resolution passed in her town.

“She is one exceptional human being,” Gold said of Gun in a recent telephone interview. “You give her a suggestion and she just flies with it. She’s just an exceptional young woman who really cares about the environment.”

Stahl said Gun’s grant application stood out because it was a realistic project of which Gun seemed enthusiastic and passionate.

“She seemed to have the drive to execute her own goals,” he said. “The other thing that we liked is that we knew that if her program was successful, it would call attention to itself. We have been delighted to see that is exactly what happened.”

Stahl is encouraged by the number of young people working to fight climate change, pointing to 17-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. It is a movement happening globally, nationally and locally.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Greta Thunbergs right in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and other New England states,” Stahl said. “Our goal is to find them and support them. Their moral voice is undeniable, and I think the adults are listening.”

In the past year, the Merlyn Climate program has awarded nine grants to young adults. Grants range from $500 to $3,000, Stahl said.

He said one student is starting a kelp farm in Maine. Another is studying climate change’s impact on the Bronx River in New York. Others are leaders in the Sunrise Movement, a nonprofit that advocates for more government policies addressing climate change.

Matthew Marshquist, chairman of the Ashland Sustainability Committee, said Gun’s initiative could blend nicely with the town’s net-ero resolution.

“There’s some big things we can do to reduce emissions from transportation – like infrastructure changes to make the community more walkable,” he said. “But those are regional changes that require significant funding. So this idea of reducing idling doesn’t cost anything. This practice would actually save money.

Gun is co-president of the National Youth Council at Project Green Schools, a nonprofit whose goal is to develop the next generation of environmental leaders. She hasn’t yet decided where she will go to college, but said she plans to study sustainability and public health. She said she has given a lot of thought to becoming a sustainability coordinator or working to address public health threats.

To keep the initiative alive after she graduates from Ashland High this spring, Gun has been collaborating with the school’s environmental club.

“We all just have think a little bit more about what we are doing and how that impacts the word,” she said.

Cesareo Contreras writes about environmental issues and technology for the Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-3957 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @cesareo_r.

Our Neighbors: “Lexington’s Diamond Middle School Launches Food Rescue Program”

Original post from the Patch – 

By Samantha Mercado, Patch Staff, Jan 6, 2020

The program’s objective is to “repurpose” untainted, well-preserved foods by donating them to nearby food pantries, soup kitchens, etc.

LEXINGTON, MA — On January 2, Diamond Middle School launched the Lexington Public School’s Food Rescue Program. The goal of the program is to aid in reducing food waste while helping tackle the issue of food insecurity. The program is anticipated to expand district-wide in the future, pending the outcome of the pilot program.

In Massachusetts alone, 616,090 people struggle with hunger and 159,950 are children according to Feeding America’s 2019 numbers. The program’s objective is to “repurpose” untainted, well-preserved foods by donating them to nearby food pantries, soup kitchens or shelters as needed. Food Link, out of Arlington, will be picking up the food and distributing it for donation.

The Food Rescue Program is a collaborative effort by Whitson’s Food Services staff, school staff, Lexington Public Schools Green Teams (LPSGT) parent volunteers, Food Link, and the Lexington Office of Public Health. The program is overseen by the Office of Public Health.

School staff & LPSGT parent volunteers will work with students to familiarize them with the program by teaching them how to properly preserve the food, and explaining the importance of reducing food waste. The Lexington Office of Public Health has approved the training protocols for school staff.

In 2014, the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection established a commercial organics food waste ban, applicable to commercial food establishments and processors producing more than 1 ton of food waste per week. Although public schools generating less than 1 ton of food waste per week are not mandated to divert food waste through this ban, we will now be ahead of the curve should the state commercial waste ban expand to include smaller generators of food waste.

Our Neighbors: “Westwood elementary schools launch lunchroom composting”

Original post from Wicked Local – 

By Westwood Public Schools, Dec 4, 2019. 

This fall, elementary schools in Westwood instituted a new lunchroom composting program with a plan to eventually expand district-wide. It was not the brainchild of any administrator, teacher or parent. The idea came from a group of students in Catherine Starsiak’s second-grade class at the Sheehan School.

“They did a lot of research about what happens to things when you throw them in the trash,” said Kate Doyle, the elementary science coordinator for the Westwood Schools. “They looked at landfills and recycling programs and wanted to know if there was a better way to manage it. They decided to focus on composting.”

Composting was first introduced into the curriculum when Massachusetts made it part of statewide science standards in 2016. As Sheehan students were learning about it last year, many realized they were already composting at home. They all decided they wanted to do more.

Starsiak, Doyle and science specialist Karlyn Lazazzero worked with the students to develop the project. It required them to appeal to stakeholders in the district and, in doing so, they eventually won a grant from the Foundation for Westwood Education. The money has allowed them to fund composting in all five schools for this academic year.

“We’re starting it up one school at a time because we’re using it as an opportunity to teach kids more about renewability,” said Doyle. “We’re talking about the idea of reduce, reuse and recycle and all the things that are really embedded in the science curriculum. It’s also a chance to learn about simply being a good citizen of the planet.”

At present, three schools in the district have fully implemented the composting system. They hope to be in all five before winter break.

The process is fairly simple, Doyle explained. Rather than simply having one large trash can into which all waste goes, students are now taught how to separate everything at the end of their lunch period. Liquids are emptied into a bucket and eventually down the drain. Leftover food or any organic material is put into a compost bucket. Plastic or paper that can be recycled is put into a recycle bin. Any remaining trash is put in the trash barrel. As part of the program, lunch trays are now made from compostable material. Once a week, the collection of compost is picked up by a service that will eventually return soil back to the school.

“Come the spring, we’ll start getting that compost back and we’ll be able to use it to grow things in our outdoor learning centers throughout the district,” Doyle said.

Now third-graders, the students behind the program are still playing a role in the project. As part of the staggered rollout, they are working with students in other schools, helping them become “compost ambassadors.” Their job is to help everyone sort properly and answer any questions about the process.

The students are also collecting data on the entire program. By monitoring how much renewable waste has been diverted from landfills, they will be able to present the information as part of the effort to get their original grant extended. The eventual goal is to have composting both become a permanent part of the budget and be expanded to the entire district.

“This is a really great example of the idea of ‘think globally, act locally.’ We hope to show that by managing the waste stream in a different way, it may help save the earth, but it will also save money,” Doyle said. “When we dump trash we get charged by the weight of it. By separating these streams, we’ve already seen that weight go down significantly. This is good for the health of the planet, but it’s also really good for the bottom line.”

Our Neighbors: “Composting becomes commonplace in Acton-Boxborough schools”

Original post from The Boston Globe – 

By Ysabelle Kempe

A handful of students gathered around a large heap of trash generated by that day’s lunch period at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School. They sorted through the rubbish, either with glove-clad hands or long trash claws.

When the group stepped back two hours later to survey their work, they were dismayed: A full 87 percent of what had been thrown out could have been recycled or composted.

Since that discovery in 2011, waste has been seriously reduced in the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District. The district committed to a sustainability policy in 2017, and all schools now compost and recycle in their lunch rooms. In addition, the district switched from styrofoam to compostable plates.

“It’s part of the shift to look for a zero-waste goal,” said Kate Crosby, the school district’s energy manager. “It’s a goal that a lot of colleges are talking about. We are happy to be a K-12 school district talking about it as well.”

Every school in the district now has three bins in the cafeteria — one for recycling, one for compost, and one for trash. At Acton-Boxborough Regional High School, daily lunchtime waste has been reduced from 40 bags to six.

The district has been moving toward low-waste goals for about seven years now. Kerin Crockett, a fifth-grade teacher involved in the initiative at Blanchard Memorial School, said the first step was understanding how much waste could be funneled elsewhere.

“It is important that other schools realize what is being created in their cafeterias,” Crockett said. “If you can embrace the mess of it, you can sort out your food, and that’s huge.”

The initiative didn’t face any pushback from the community, Crosby said. Since the system went into effect, she has received calls from eight other school districts searching for advice on implementing programs of their own.


The advice she provides is simple: Just make sure you have support from school leaders and students. That includes working with student-run “Green Teams,” clubs that champion environmental causes.

Students “have to have buy in,” Crockett said. “What we saw happen with our recycling program was nobody knew where that went. They assumed the recycle fairies came at night, and it was just gone.”

Education, both peer-to-peer and teacher-to-student, has played a large role in implementing the program. Students created signs for the separate barrels. Older students were tasked with teaching younger ones how to sort.

Crosby said sorting trash has become normalized across all schools, but other compost experts report that it is simpler to implement changes in younger grades.

Conor Miller is the founder of Black Earth Compost, the company that picks up bins from Blanchard Memorial School. Miller and his team love getting elementary schools set up with compost systems because the young children are enthusiastic and determined. However, Black Earth doesn’t have the same level of enthusiasm for servicing high schools.

“They’re not as interested in it, and they have contamination problems,” Miller said. “They’ll put plastic wrappers in their paper lunch bags and throw it out. I would encourage other districts to start with elementary schools.”

Miller calls his compost the “best in the state,” admitting he might be biased. But he does boast that the mixture is nutrient-heavy, due to the large amount of food waste Black Earth has access to.


Changing the system takes a considerable amount of time and effort, Crosby said, but was cost-neutral for the school district. Although a compostable plate costs more than double that of a styrofoam plate, the district saves money on reduced trash pickup.

While cost is important, district educators see the system as a worthy investment. The effects of a more sustainable cafeteria have already begun to spread — many students are embracing sorting and some have begun composting at home.

“What I want them to get out of fifth grade science is that they can take care of the planet in their tiny world and in the big picture,” Crockett said. “They are going to inherit a planet that needs care.”

Ysabelle Kempe can be reached at [email protected].

Our Neighbors: “Students on Martha’s Vineyard took action against single-use plastic bottles – and won”

Original post from Conservation Law Foundation – 

By Olivia Synoracki, Nov 6, 2019

Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs recently named a group of students from Martha’s Vineyard, who took action against the island’s plastic waste, as the winners of their Marine Debris Creative Advocacy Competition. Here, we take a look at what the students accomplished and see how advocacy work is essential to creating lasting solutions for New England’s – and the world’s – trash.

Growing concerns over the health and environmental impacts of single-use plastics have many of us questioning the very nature of everyday products like straws, grocery bags, and water and soda bottles. While these items may be convenient, they all have a lifespan of mere minutes before being tossed aside, making their way into a landfill, incinerator, or, more often than not, our environment.

About eight million metric tons of that plastic litter end up in our oceans each year. Although horrors such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have garnered much attention, the truth is, plastic can be found in every single ocean – including our ­­beloved Atlantic.

For residents of Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, ocean plastic has become a massive concern. Plastic debris constantly washes up on its shores, posing long-term threats to the island’s fishing and tourism industries, as well as the health and environment of its residents and marine life.

Dismayed by this ever-present danger in their community, a group of the island’s middle schoolers decided to take action. Together, they introduced a bylaw to cut the Vineyard’s single-use plastics and drive long-term change. Their success offers lessons to us all that, with passion and persistence, we can each fight for a future that we believe in.

Team Plastic Free MV is Born

Twenty-seven years ago, Martha’s Vineyard hosted its first-ever beach cleanup. Volunteers from across the island came out to rid the Vineyard of the trash lining its shores – and they have continued the event annually ever since.

For the past several years, West Tisbury middle school teacher and environmental activist, Annemarie Ralph, has involved her students in the cleanup. Together, they’ve picked up what has become an all-too-familiar array of plastic bottles, straws, bags, and other litter polluting the Vineyard’s shores. Seeing the impact of plastic pollution first-hand, Ralph’s fifth and sixth graders began to question whether their cleanup attempts would make a difference long-term.

To the students’ surprise, no Vineyard town had taken action to combat the plastic crisis and protect their future. Frustrated with the lack of effort by the adults in their community, the group of 10- to 12-year-olds, with Ralph’s help, took action themselves. They formed Plastic Free MV and started with one goal: to ban plastic water and soda bottles island-wide.

Plastic Bottles – An Unnecessary Evil

The production, recycling, and improper disposal of plastic waste create toxic emissions, threatening our health and the environment. What’s more, chemicals found in plastic bottles leach into the beverages they contain and can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, cancer, birth defects, and impaired immunity, among other issues.

Compelled by these frightening facts, Plastic Free MV drafted a bylaw regulating plastic bottles. The bylaw banned all non-carbonated, unflavored water, as well as all soft drinks – defined as any beverage containing carbonated water and a sweetener – under 34 ounces. No other town in the country has enacted a plastic bottle ban that includes soda bottles, so their addition in the students’ ordinance was an ambitious step for a group of young, first-time advocates.

Advocacy in Motion

With the bylaw drafted, now the real work began: getting it passed by the Vineyard’s six towns. The young members of Plastic Free MV organized meetings with state representatives, island residents, and local business owners to educate them about the proposed ban. Unsurprisingly, not everyone was on board. Companies and store owners especially worried that the bylaw might negatively impact their businesses.

But the students were ready for such objections. They came to the meetings with a solution – for businesses to sell and distribute alternatives, such as glass bottles and aluminum cans. By talking with and working alongside community members to address their concerns, the students were able to rally business owners and residents alike to their side.

With the adults in their communities now on board, the students’ fervor to ban plastic quickly took hold of the Vineyard. Three of the island’s six towns, including West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah, united behind the students and introduced Plastic Free MV’s bylaw on their town meeting dockets.

On April 9, the first vote took place in West Tisbury. With over 300 people in attendance, Plastic Free MV’s ordinance passed with overwhelming support. Chilmark and Aquinnah followed suit shortly after, leaving the students – and the island – to witness history in the making. On May 1 of next year, the sale and distribution of all plastic water and soda bottles under 34 ounces will be officially banned in all three towns.

Nowhere to Go but Up

As exciting as these wins were, Plastic Free MV knew there was more work to be done. With the Vineyard’s summer months approaching, when the island’s population would swell six-fold, seasonal residents and tourists would need to learn about the forthcoming bottle bans. So, the students held a number of events educating the summer crowds on the harms of plastic waste, while also giving away reusable water bottles for visitors to use at one of the island’s various refill stations.

But their environmental legacy doesn’t end there. The students are already looking ahead to next year, with the goal of passing their bylaw in Tisbury, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs – the island’s other three towns.

Plastic Free MV’s efforts to ban plastic waste from the island shows us that it’s not enough to sit aside and wait for change to happen – we need to be the change we want to see. Their advocacy work has been and will continue to be crucial to implementing long-term sustainable solutions to our waste. Yours is, too. We all have the power to create change.

Looking to reduce waste in your hometown? Take a page out of Plastic Free MV’s book on how to take action and advocate for what you believe in.



Our Neighbors: “Provincetown teacher creates positive climate for students”

Original post from Cape Cod Times – 

By Cynthia McCormick, Nov 3, 2019

Richard “Rick” Gifford, a teacher in the Provincetown Public Schools, has given himself one tough homework assignment: making the subject of climate change engaging and even fun for his middle school students.

“Kids are naturally kind,” said Gifford, 50, who recently won the Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers award for Barnstable County science educator of the year. “They’re naturally curious about the environment. They’re passionate. They care.”

“They’re aware (climate change) is a significant problem,” Gifford said. “It’s what you do about it — that’s the question.”

The association will honor Gifford and other award winners Dec. 6 at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel and Trade Center in Marlboro.

Gifford’s interest in the topic drove him to take a free online course this past summer to become certified as a climate teacher through EduCCate Global, which is a joint venture between the One UN Climate Change Learning Partnership and Harwood Education.

There are about 2,000 of these certified climate teachers around the world now, mostly in the United Kingdom, where Harwood Education is based, Gifford said. Gifford said he is one of a handful of certified teachers in the U.S., but he expects the numbers to grow as word about the program travels.

The curriculum involves learning about how climate change affects cities, children, health and legal systems, said Gifford, who is a design and STEAM teacher for sixth, seventh and eighth grades in the International Baccalaureate program at Provincetown Schools.

In teaching about climate change, Gifford goes where most U.S. educators fear to tread. Although most teachers want to address climate change, less than 50% attempt to do so in the classroom, according to an NPR/Ipsos poll released in time for Earth Day in April.

The classroom silence occurs despite the fact that more than 80% of U.S. parents and the majority of those polled — Republican or Democrat — agreed climate change should be taught in schools, according to the poll.

Teachers answering the poll listed several reasons for not touching on the subject, from lack of knowledge and materials to its lack of inclusion in the curriculum. In addition, some teachers feared getting complaints from parents.

Gifford said he hasn’t received any complaints from parents or other individuals about tackling climate change. He said he is careful to balance information about climate change “with the real solutions that are out there.”

Some of the solutions are as simple as planting trees, while others involve removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and returning it to depleted soils through a process called soil carbon sequestration.


Read full article here.

Our Neighbors: Wellesley’s “Truly Scary” Halloween Campaign

Original post from Sustainable Wellesley – 

The truth is a little scary. But without it, we can’t take action to prevent the even scarier consequences.  We are sharing these as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change) estimates that we only have 12 years to prevent the earth from surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. Consequences include droughts, increased severe weather, rising sea levels and flooding, famine, and refugee crises.

 Choose the scary theme that resonates most with you; or share them all on all of your social media accounts. Learn more about the issues as well as ways you can make a difference by clicking here.  

Every incremental increase has an impact on rising sea levels, droughts, and severe weather patterns. 1.8 billion people: the number likely to be directly affected by sea level rise by 2050. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that “extreme sea level events that used to occur once a century will strike every year on many coasts by 2050”. 


Reducing the amount of beef you eat by choosing smaller servings, making a beef stew instead of a pot-roast, and adding more meatless meals can have a drastic reduction on your carbon footprintLots of options here.



Yes, we are serious, learn more here.

[Same for Newton, by the way. Check out Newton’s Mothers Out Front about gas leaks in Newton). 



Children, seniors and those with lung health issue are particularly at risk. Plus, its against the law!

There are many ways you can be part of the solution from being an informed voter, to grabbing jackets for those sitting in the carline instead of idling.

Our Neighbors: High school seniors produce documentary ‘Under Pressure’

Original post from Models of Excellence | EL Education –  

The documentary Under Pressure was created by the 2019 senior class from Four Rivers Charter School in Greenfield, MA and covers the September 2018  Merrimack Valley Columbia gas explosions and the natural gas industry in Massachusetts and nationally. The documentary film explores the complex truth of natural gas as an energy source as well as the struggles of local families and small businesses as they attempt to rebuild their lives after a disaster. The expedition spanned all four core classes and lasted from September to the film’s premiere at the Greenfield Garden Cinema in February 2019.


We asked the teacher

What was compelling for your students about this?
The most compelling aspects of this expedition were that the students themselves chose the topic of the film and that they were ultimately responsible for the quality of a film that they would show to a full theater here in Greenfield then distribute far and wide via the internet. They put their names and the name of the school on this product and many of them decided that they were not going to accept anything below what they thought was their best work.

What were the challenges?
Having 30 people make one movie was the biggest challenge. This was the most intense group work experience many of them had ever done. It’s not easy to have a conversation with your colleague about a difference in opinion about what’s best for the project or to point out when you don’t think they are doing their share, especially when you’re 17 years old. We build learning targets into our lessons to help address these challenges and see them as part of the learning but recognize that it’s still tough.

What makes this particular piece a model for other students?
Video is a medium that saturates our lives whether we like it or not. We are constantly bombarded by it but unless students take the time to learn what is behind these images and sounds they might not know how much effort it takes to produce a quality video of any length. This documentary shows other students what is possible with a small budget and equipment available at just about any community television station. There was so much thought and effort that went into our film, I can see future senior classes here at Four Rivers using this film as a model for everything from B-roll and archival footage use, to narration and script and storytelling.

What would be your advice to a teacher that is inspired by this project?
Give yourself plenty of time. The act of making a movie is a great motivating factor, and with a compelling story, the students will be engaged and driven to get the story out there. The hard part is getting the film done on time. A few years ago our movie finished exporting while folks were already in the theater, and since then we’ve gotten a little better each year about the timing, but it always takes more time than you think. To quote a professional filmmaker that our students work with, “finish the film. That’s the goal.”

Ask for a screening

Contact Cindy Mapes ([email protected]) from Mothers Out Front if your school or organization is interested in a screening the film, as the anniversary of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions is coming up.

In the news

Greenfield Recorder: High school seniors produce documentary ‘Under Pressure’
Consumers for Sensible Energy: