Adlai E. Stevenson High School: Waste Reduction Initiatives at Stevenson

  • Project Type: Path to Net Zero, Waste Reduction
  • Students: 40
  • Staff: 5
  • Mentor: Eileen Grace Whitemiller
  • Location: Lincolnshire, IL
  • Grade Level: High School

The Project

Adlai E. Stevenson High School’s Waste Reduction Initiatives aim to bring Stevenson closer to net zero waste through three mini-projects that each target a specific area of school waste, including single-use plastic utensil waste, single-use plastic cups, and overall waste from decorations at school-wide events like Homecoming. 

The school’s Path to Zero project is led by Green Team, a student-led co-curricular group that emphasizes education and service. The Green Team includes three committees that focus on each initiative. 

The Committees and Process

Project Cut-lery

Project Cut-lery seeks to eliminate the school’s 3 tons of annual single-use plastic utensil waste, specifically from daily school lunches. The Green Team, leading the program, ultimately hopes for everyone in the school to bring their own utensils from home. They had initial ideas to switch to compostable utensils, but because the final goal is to reach zero waste, they want to encourage students and faculty to bring their own reusable utensils, a more sustainable source of cutlery, rather than distributing single-use ones. 

More than 18,000 single-use plastic utensils are dispensed each week at Adlai E. Stevenson High School. The students initially considered working towards a schoolwide shift to reusable utensils, but realized that introducing metal utensils for common use was not feasible in the time span they had this year. They also encountered obstacles of safety and sanitation concerns. Thus, the Green Team promoted an initiative to have students bring their own reusable cutlery from home instead of taking from the dispensers every single day. 

Project Cut-lery invovled posting signage throughout the cafeteria that encouraged students to bring reusable untensils.
Project Cut-lery invovled posting signage throughout the cafeteria that encouraged students to bring reusable untensils.

They advertised the project through morning announcement ads, posters around school (located where plastic utensils are normally dispensed), and recorded baseline materiality assessments through a Google Form. To encourage participation, they also implemented a raffle system where three entries from the Google form would be randomly chosen to win a solar-powered portable charger, which was financed through Illinois Green Alliance’s mini grant. Project Cut-lery garnered over 50 official entries to the raffle. 

The Jazzman's Project

Jazzman’s targets the school’s cafe waste, aiming to replace plastic beverage cups that are sold every day with reusable cups. The goal is to encourage the use of reusable cups by increasing awareness of their environmental and financial benefits.

With Jazzman’s, the Green Team first met with Sodexo management, the school’s food service provider, to learn about the current usage of plastic cups, costs, and other inventory setbacks. From that data, they determined that there was a significant need for a reduction in one-time use plastics. The team of students designed a custom Stevenson x Green Team reusable tumbler. 

They sought out a sustainable producer for these tumblers, ultimately landing on used recycled plastic for their cups. The students purchased a total of 180 cups using the mini-grant from Illinois Green Alliance, and sold them on campus. With each use of the reusable tumblers, students receive a 50 cent discount on their drink at the school’s cafe. As another incentive, they placed a special Green ticket inside one cup for the customer to redeem for a $5 gift card. The Green Team implemented these incentives after their preliminary survey found that a great majority of people said they would bring a reusable cup for a discount. 

Project dECOrations 

Project dECOrations focuses on reusing leftover decoration materials from major school dances and events, like Homecoming, with the goal of eventually reaching zero waste thrown away from these events.

With dECOrations, they collaborated with Student Council, which coordinates the decorating for each major school dance. They established a plan to preserve the decorations following each event. For example, after a school dance called Winterfest, they saved about 50% of decorating materials for future use. They also chose to purchase multi-use/multi-purpose items and coordinated with other student groups to share materials. These low-cost alternatives helped the students decorate the space for ~6% of the total decoration budget.

Looking Forward

The Green Team hopes to expand the three-pronged project to include the local community beyond Stevenson. 

With Project Cut-lery, they hope to involve school representatives and local/state governments in the future to establish financial incentives for minimizing the use of disposable, single-use plastic utensils in local restaurants and businesses. They also plan to continue to encourage people to keep up the habit of bringing reusable utensils to school. 

The Jazzman committee is waiting for this year's data to be complete to best realize where to focus their efforts next year. They plan to analyze the cost-benefit ratio to understand the buy-in of students and staff to determine the most effective next steps to increase the success of the initiative.

The dECOrations committee hopes to use sustainable decor for every school dance going forward. Student Council is interested in working alongside the Green Team in the future to reduce their amount of waste.