“Going green.” It’s a phrase everyone is familiar with these days. But what does it mean to put the phrase into action, to create the habits of a healthy lifestyle and to ultimately better where you live and develop a greener earth for the next generation? The answer lies in sustainability and creating ways to reduce everyday wastes.
Luckily for us, the Charleston County School District (CCSD) sees the importance of a “green” future and has been working diligently on educating our children as to why sustainability is important for their future.
Maggie Dangerfield, who served as CCSD sustainability coordinator from 2011 to 2015, stated, “We worked with a green liaison in each school, which was a teacher or staff member who was dedicated to help spearhead green initiatives there.”
In 2011, it was mostly about making sure that every school was recycling. A major expense for CCSD was their waste, which they paid the Bees Ferry Landfill in the sum of about $600,000 to manage in 2011. “That doesn’t include the hauling fee, which was probably around $200,000,” Dangerfield explained.
It took a major effort to train people at the schools to change their habits and recycle more. “The green liaisons and green teams helped,” she said.
Their efforts paid off. By 2015, Dangerfield said their landfill costs went from $600,000 to $300,000. But this was not due to recycling alone. CCSD ran into a bit of luck around 2012 with the Bees Ferry Landfill when their composting division began composting food waste, not just leaf and yard trimmings. “We were approached by a commercial composting company to start a food-waste program, so we jumped at the chance,” she said.
Dangerfield explained that the volume in the dumpsters at the 49 schools that participated in the program by 2013 went down dramatically and that it happened fast.
By 2015, Dangerfield said that 2.5 million pounds of food waste from CCSD had been diverted from the landfill. She said that now in 2019, she is sure the number is closer to 5 million pounds.
Dangerfield, who no longer works as the sustainability coordinator for CCSD, as the position was dissolved and never refilled, proudly declared, “We set a great foundation for the schools to do this mostly on their own with their own programs.”
And, they have. The green teams and green liaisons have flourished way beyond Dangerfield’s and the district’s expectations.
Nancy Platt, a resource teacher at James B. Edwards Elementary School, is one of those champions. She has been the head of the green team there for the past five years. Not only does she promote avid recycling among all the classrooms, but they also compost their food waste at lunch; they have three school garden beds; harvest crops for students to take home and eat; operate a 28 foot by 35 foot working classroom greenhouse; lead a horticulture program and host a plant sale twice a year; participate in the oyster bed restoration project called Seeds to Shoreline; recycle oyster shells; manage a native plant garden and an herb garden; and sell reusable sandwich and snack containers.
If that isn’t enough, it was also thanks to Platt’s efforts that CCSD now uses compostable lunch trays rather than Styrofoam trays. She piloted the program at James B. Edwards in January, and, after the district noticed her efforts, they announced that all the schools would use the environmentally safe lunch trays.
“It took so much effort and research to find trays that would be cost-effective, but we finally did,” Platt explained.
It is estimated that this program will eliminate 2.9 million pounds of Styrofoam trays from going to the landfill in one year’s time. “The small increase in cost of the trays balances out due to the further decrease in the landfill cost and the fact that the county sells the compost that we provide them,” Dangerfield explained.
Another teacher at Burke High School in Charleston has instituted a successful oyster reef restoration project with the help of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). In the fall of 2018, Peter Locher, a science teacher, and Benjamin Plants, a world geography teacher, set out to teach their students about the local environment and its unique needs. With the help of SCDNR, they took their students to an area of marshland in need of oyster reefs. “We obtained the seeds and harvested them at school. We watched them grow for several months, and, in April, we went back out to the marshland and planted them ourselves,” Locher said.
“It was great to see the students so engaged in this project,” Locher continued. “They were out in the wild, and they were so committed in seeing these seeds successfully planted after they had worked on cultivating them for many months.”
By Theresa Stratford