Lunchtime at Grandville High School has become more sustainable thanks to the Green Team.
They may sound like a group of superheroes, but they’re just ordinary students doing little things every day to help the earth, led by an industrious teacher.
Instead of plastic silverware, the lunchroom now uses reusable spoons, forks, tubs and stainless steel cups, and features a recycling center built by biology teacher Kevin Randall, who has spearheaded the initiative. The recycling center sits in the middle of the cafeteria and has receptacles for plastic, trash and used silverware.
“The cost of the materials for the recycling tables was generously covered by my administration from our building improvement budget,” Randall said, who estimated he spent about 100 hours over the summer building the center.
There are nine recycling stations in the cafeteria, each made of wood, metal brackets and casters. Randall estimates that the school will avoid putting 50,000 plastic utensils into landfills every year.
“This project is one of several initiatives that show the students of GHS that we believe in being responsible with our resources and our waste,” Randall said. “The hope is that our students will get used to creating and using recycling systems, as well as finding ways to reduce their use of single-serving plastic containers. Then, when they graduate and transition to adulthood, they will build those habits in their own homes and for their own families.”
The Evolution of the Team
Though the Green Team has been around for many years, it was originally started as the Conservation Club by veteran teacher Terry Blevins almost 15 years ago. Randall took over as adviser for the Green Team approximately 10 years ago.
Between 20 to 30 students are active in the group, all of them passionate about their mission of raising environmental awareness and reducing the school’s carbon footprint. Seniors Katie Kaiser and Emma Bielski serve as co-presidents.
“We’re a growing club and, because of that, I think awareness about saving the environment is growing in the school as well,” Katie said. “I think that the club will do a lot of great things even after we graduate.”
Each month, the Green Team choses a theme, such as endangered species awareness or plastic use awareness, and plans fundraisers or activities around it.
“We are going to sell reusable plastic bottles to students and staff to try and reduce the number of plastic water bottles that we see around the school,” Katie said. “This is a good time for us to talk to students about little ways that they can help be sustainable.”
The team also plants and takes care of a school garden.
“The vegetables we get from the garden go to kids at the school who don’t have access to fresh, homegrown vegetables,” Emma said. “They go to good use.”
Both she and Katie plan to incorporate environmental studies into their future education.
“I want to look at the research side of things,” Katie said. “I really want to look into the effects of pollution on plants and the chemicals found in our soil.”
Emma hopes to study international communications, but plans to take classes about the environment and work on creating a sustainable college campus.
“I know that recycling and environmental studies will always be a part of my life,” she said. “It’s important that everyone puts sustainable efforts into place no matter how small.”
Big Plans Moving Forward
Long-term, the group is working toward installation of solar panels or wind turbines at the high school. During last year’s annual fundraiser at Chipotle, the team took in $400 toward the project.
“We have been raising money for several years and are still quite a ways away from our goal,” Randall said. “We realize that we would only be offsetting a small amount of our energy consumption with renewable sources, but we intend to be an example for the other schools in our district and for the businesses in the surrounding area.”
Randall hopes that being visually transparent and helpful to the Grandville community will encourage future generations to think more about the future of the planet.
“I believe that students are more likely to do the right thing if they see adults doing it first,” he said. “We often talk about being good stewards of the environment, but don’t very often ‘walk our talk.’
He minces no words when it comes to stating what’s at stake.
“Climate change is real. Environmental degradation is real. Increasing extinction rates are real. These are things that not many people are talking about, and they should be. We are trying to start the conversation.
“If we can raise awareness in our building,” he added, “maybe our students will think twice about where they throw away their trash or how they use their energy at home.”