Have your fork and eat it too!

Eco-savvy students make edible utensils

From left, eighth-graders Tannis Brummel, Zach Jeruzal, Logan Coller, Allyson Pitsch and Serenity Metzger are introducing edible utensils to the West Middle School lunch room

Reduce, reuse, recycle and …. eat?

To cut down on the amount of waste generated in the school cafeteria, West Middle School students recently used and then dined on edible forks and spoons made from flour, salt and water.

“They taste kind of like breadsticks,” said eighth-grader Tannis Brummel, a member of the EcoChallenge team.

The eight-member group of young and passionate environmental stewards shaped, molded and baked 300 edible forks and spoons for students to use at lunch time.  They took to the kitchen so they could spread awareness about single-use plastics, items like cups, straws, bags and containers used just once before being discarded. Plastics, they explained, require natural resources to produce, remain on the planet for centuries, often end up in the ocean and release toxic chemicals as they break down.

Students used the edible utensils as part of Eco Week, hosted by the EcoChallenge team. They also devoted days to recycling, conserving electricity by using minimal light, going paper-free and saving energy by turning down the heat.

“It’s a fun way to reduce plastic because you get to try something new,” said Zach Jeruzal.

“It’s really exciting to see the people’s reactions,” added Serenity Metzger about showing peers the utensils.

Middle Schools science teachers Justin Vande Pol and Ben Lacy advise the student-led EcoChallenge, where students compete in the the Scholastic Lexus Eco Challenge, a national STEM competition that awards a total of $500,000 in grants and scholarships to eligible teachers, students, and schools each year.

Students complete projects in the areas of Land & Water and Air & Climate, for sixteen prizes of $10,000. Winning teams from the challenge can then compete for a final challenge for two $30,000 grand prizes and eight $15,000 first-place prizes.

West Middle students are tackling the Air and Climate Challenge, working to have a local impact. They researched Kent County waste and recycling information and studied the pollutants released as the waste decays.

West Middle School students nibble their forks and spoons

According to an article students referenced, the Kent County landfill receives nearly 500,000 tons of waste per year and it is estimated 75 percent of waste destined for the Kent County landfill could be reused. Kent County residents and businesses recycle 8 to 10 percent of their waste.

The work has students thinking about using less plastic and other resources and recycling more. “Recycling reduces the greenhouse glasses we are producing as a community and those greenhouse glasses are what’s causing climate change, trapping heat and not letting it be released.” said EcoChallenge member Logan Coller.

Students are also selling candy canes to raise $180 for 20 fruit trees in an impoverished country through Worldvision, which would not only reduce carbon dioxide, but help feed a community as well. They also plan to provide plants for classrooms at West Middle School.

Eco Challenge at West Middle School has an impressive track record. The 2014 team won $40,000 including the grand prize. They used the funds to provide two pedal-powered generators for laptop charging so students could generate their own power instead of plugging in to outlets. As part of the final challenge, they also purchased water filters and a well for communities in Haiti, the Philippines and Kenya.

In 2010-2011 the team won $10,000 by raising funds to buy enough rainforest land to completely offset the Middle School building’s carbon footprint and helping transition to a paperless system.

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EcoChallenge team members made 300 edible forks and spoons
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio

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