Guest Post: Eye on the Green Flag, Massachusetts Eco-School Holds a Trash Audit Party

Kate Crosby serves as the Energy Advisor for the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District and the Acton Public Schools in Acton, MA. She will be presenting at the National Green Schools Conference on energy conservation in K-12 schools in February 2012, and she thinks energy and material flow through school buildings is some of the coolest stuff around! She can be reached at


“We have to go through the trash? Are you kidding?”

MA State Senator James Eldridge (photo by Ann Sussman)
A look of dismay showed on several faces at the meeting.  A group of students and community members from Acton-Boxborough Regional High School (located in Acton, MA) had gathered for a second time to talk about solid waste and our high school cafeteria.

We knew that the cafeteria trash barrels held plenty of recyclable bottles and food scraps – it was easy to see when you peered inside.  But breaking open trash bags…?

A little background: a group of students, staff and community members at ABRHS have set a goal of achieving Green Flag certification through the Eco-Schools USA program. We knew that having this goal would help us create a structured approach to improving sustainability.  And we were enthusiastic about being linked to the 50,000 schools around the world that participate in the Eco-Schools program.

I’d done some research into the “Consumption & Solid Waste” portion of Green Flag certification and learned that it begins with a trash audit.  So…yes, we’d be breaking open trash bags and counting and weighing everything inside.

Shock at this prospect turned to laughter, and then to a realization that there was opportunity here: “Let’s make it a party! If we’re going to get down & dirty, let’s have fun with this!”

An enterprising student created an engaging “Trash Party” invitation, and we blasted it out far and wide within the school system and to community groups.  We knew we were on to something important when our State Senator Jamie Eldridge, replied that he would be coming by to support us.

A bold crew assembled on the day of the event, music playing and balloons bobbing nearby.  We were armed with buckets, tarps, gloves, clipboards, and cameras.  The first trash bag was upended into a tub, and the sorting began!  We counted and weighed and hunted for the prizes that two clever students had dropped into the trash during lunch earlier in the day.

Trash sorting at school (photo by Ann Sussman)
Forty bags later, we had a treasure trove of data. Out of 58 pounds of trash sorted, 48 pounds was recyclable or compostable.  That left just 10 poundsof trash, and half of that was styrofoam trays which we hope in the future to recycle.

So the honest-to-goodness trash was just 5 pounds, and filled just half a bag!  Another surprise:  it was way fun!  We had a great time together, and it was exhilarating to put together solid data confirming our hunches about the trash stream.

After some trash-sorting, Sen. Eldridge spoke with us about legislative proposals to enhance recycling and composting.  Principal Alixe Callen and Director of Facililties J.D. Head came out to lend a hand.  A reporter covered the event and posted a great video report, and we posted a report and photos on the website we’ve been building to publicize our progress toward sustainability. The data we gathered creates a valuable baseline to rethink our waste management, and will inform the planning underway.

The best part of all?  Taking action together…and discovering that a Trash Party can be a blast!

To learn more about how to become a certified Eco-School, click here.