California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Westmorland Elementary--Power in Partnership, continued...

Reducing Food Waste and Mess

Liz and Julie with food wagon.  

Liz Rodriguez displays
breakfast cart with
Westmorland School Cafeteria
Manager Julie Mitchell.

"Our cafeteria has 'offer vs. serve,' which means that students are allowed to choose the foods they want to take, which reduces food waste. We let students take as many fruits and vegetables as they want from the salad bar, but also remind them to take only as much as they can eat," says Westmorland School Cafeteria Manager Julie Mitchell.

Attendance is closely monitored for the number of meals daily. The cafeteria serves three groups of students and adds more food to the salad bar, as needed, with each group. The school also offers two entrée choices, and one grain or bread product. "If staff anticipates needing five cans of one food item, three cans are opened, and the additional cans are opened as needed. We leave peelings on the fruit to increase its shelf life and prevent waste. Menus incorporate unused food from the previous day. One day a month is cook’s choice day, allowing us to clean out the freezer." There is a trading table at lunchtime for packaged food items. Additionally, to reduce the volume of waste from disposable lunch trays, students scrape excess food from their trays, then stack them. As a result of these management practices, only two 33-gallon containers of waste are produced from the entire school lunch per day.

Although breakfasts are served in the classrooms, no food is disposed into classroom waste containers. Breakfast is wheeled into classrooms on little red wagons, with a towel and a plastic bag to return waste to the cafeteria. All food leaving the cafeteria is packaged, so it can be reused if it is not opened. For example, milk not used for breakfast is used for the first lunch of the day. Staff contacted vendors to find plastic waste bags that would not be punctured by drink pouch straws. The recycling can is picked up from the classrooms as needed, while the one garbage can is picked up daily. "Because there is no food allowed in classroom trash cans, there is less mess. One trash can and one recycling container, instead of two trash cans in the classroom, means more efficiency of collection with no less convenience for the class," says Ignacio.


Construction and Demolition

In summer 2003, the school had to do electrical and plumbing upgrades requiring demolition of concrete block walls and hallways. Ignacio made sure all rebar was removed and separated from concrete so both materials could be recycled. Three-and-a-half loads of concrete were crushed and recycled for road base from this renovation project, and one 10-yard container of metal was recycled, for a total of 41 tons of recycling from this renovation project, with only one large roll-off container of other mixed waste.

Grasscycling and Composting

Ignacio found another major opportunity to prevent waste and cut costs by changing the practice of collecting, bagging, and disposing of grass clippings. He says, "4 or 5 years ago we would use 25 to 30 plastic bags per week to dispose of grass clippings from the fields. One day I tracked the time and labor required for this effort, and found that we were wasting 40 man-hours of labor per job to handle clippings in this manner! The school had an area of barren alkaline soil which was not being used that we wanted to make into a playing field, so we started dumping grass clippings there, occasionally plowing them in. Now we have reduced our labor and the purchase of bags, and the field soil is improving."

Books and Computers

"Our policy is to first offer old books free to residents, then to recycle them," says Ignacio. The school also receives free computers from Calipatria State Prison, where inmates rebuild them. "When these become obsolete, we offer them to students to take home. Only about 10 percent of the children’s families in Westmorland have computers, and without this program, they would have none. In order to qualify for the program, the parent and child are required to attend training together on computer use. Additionally, we plan to donate 30 or 40 CPUs this year to a local thrift store, which will sell them for reuse as long as they are operational."


Hazardous Waste Management and Maintenance Practices

Timothy Wenk's magic of recycling.  

Timothy Wenk
performing his
"Magic of
show for
K-4th grades
in Imperial County

"Five years ago we re-evaluated our use of chemicals. For health and safety of staff and students we changed our purchasing to water-based, environmentally friendly chemicals for cleaning and maintenance. We now purchase no pesticides but contract out for pest management services, as needed, when kids are not around during seasonal school breaks," says Ignacio. "We also reuse our 5-gallon, PVC cafeteria buckets for maintenance." Imperial County has also recently developed two permanent household hazardous waste facilities, and is in the process of developing a program for proper handling of electronic waste.

Environmental Curriculum

Children watching JB West.  

Imperial Valley JPA Recycling
Coordinator J. B. West
presenting to grades K-4
with teachers looking on.

"Our waste management program depends upon the enthusiasm and participation of students and teachers," says Westmorland School Principal Linda Morse. To develop this enthusiasm and maintain momentum, the Imperial Valley JPA has been focusing on education and the environment. In fact, the majority of the JPA’s funds for the past few years have been used to invest in environmental education for Imperial Valley children. The JPA Recycling Coordinator, J. B. West, says "A few years ago the local JPA arranged for Recycle Rex to visit Westmorland and other schools in the Imperial Valley. More recently, we hired Timothy Wenk to perform his Magic of Recycling show for K-4th grades throughout county schools."

More recently, J. B. West sent to print a new curriculum for schools that meets State standards. Other JPA environmental education programs are contracted out to the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program (IVROP), led by Madeline Macholtz. "One year, science teacher Mr. Fred Ramsey conducted compost lessons using organics from the school yard," says Ignacio.

"Westmorland Elementary is a wonderful example of a school that is working to benefit its community," says J.B. West. "It is a model school for the whole Imperial Valley, and for that matter, for anywhere in the State."


Last updated: February 11, 2005
School Waste Reduction
Contact: (916) 341-6199 or