"They threw away their whole lunch," joked eighth-grader Justin Bangay. "We're going to find them."
Bangay's comments were lighthearted, but the sentiment behind them was sincere, as a group of students at the middle school had an opportunity to see just what goes into the trash bins in their cafeteria every day.
More than a dozen students participated in a "trash audit," conducted by Lois Humphreys. Humphreys, an environmental consultant, has been contracted by the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority to travel to the 46 schools within the authority's boundaries to talk about recycling and ways for students to reduce the waste stream.
"We do waste audits, field trips, assemblies. It's about educating the kids and making them aware of how much impact they have on the planet and what they can do about it," Humphreys said.
At the end of the Charlotte Wood lunch hour Jan. 16, the students gathered outside the multi-purpose room and worked on several tables. They donned safety glasses, aprons and rubber gloves and started bringing the full garbage bags up onto the tables.
They emptied out the trash, took out those items that were recyclable and put them in bins. Then they re-bagged the trash and moved on to the next sack.
For most it was an eye-opening experience. "There's a lot of nasty things at this school," said sixth-grader Jonathan Adams. "I can't believe the stuff that people throw away."
Adams' comment was echoed by many of the other participants who were amazed not only at the amount of recyclables put into the trash but the sheer volume of food that is wasted daily.
"One lunch bag was completely full," said seventh-grader Annie Kaplan. "There were two sandwiches, a granola bar, juice ... all thrown away."
Students from the middle school's video production class videotaped the event and interviewed many of the students. Bangay said it gave him a new appreciation for how much the students are putting into the waste stream. "It was totally disgusting. It made me really want to eat all my lunch."
School custodian Fernando Melo watched the sorting process with interest, telling the students, "If you do this in the cafeteria, you wouldn't have to be out here doing this." Some things students were finding that weren't being recycled efficiently were milk cartons, yogurt containers and aluminum cans.
The students were provided with a list of instructions on how to go through the trash bags, Humphreys said. They were required to wear the safety clothing and rubber gloves as well as exhibiting caution in sorting. The students also were warned to dump out the trash and sort it instead of reaching into the bag, and were told that under no circumstances were they to eat anything that came out of the trash.
Humphreys said that while there was only a very small percentage of the student population in attendance for the trash audit, she is hopeful that word will spread and the students at Charlotte Wood Middle School will learn to become better recyclers and help to reduce the amount of waste being produced by the school each day.