Immaculate Conception St. Joseph School: Zero Waste Lunch

  • Project Type: Path to Net Zero, Waste Reduction
  • Students: 18
  • Staff: 4
  • Mentor: Amreh Hopkins
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Grade Levels: 4th - 7th

Winner: 1st Place Middle School

Immaculate Conception St. Joseph's project was awarded the 1st Place Middle School recognition by the panel of Illinois Green Schools Project reviewers.

The Project

As a participant in the 2022-23 cohort of the Illinois Green Schools Project, Immaculate Conception St. Joseph School started a new club — the Green Dolphins — that worked on building green habits and developing a zero waste lunch. Working with their mentor, Amreh Hopkins, and supported by an Illinois Green Schools Project mini grant, the students and staff champions built new waste stations and ran an awareness campaign for composting and lunch choices.

Before the Illinois Green Schools Project After the new waste bin install

The Process:

Create the Team

The ICSJ Parents Association’s Green Committee invited the 4-8th grade campus to participate in the first ICSJ student green team on December 1, 2022.

We created a team of students, school staff and parents to learn about sustainability and share that knowledge with our community. Their new green team, dubbed the "Green Dolphins" (after the school's mascot) met nine times throughout the year to look at ways to improve school sustainability, ultimately focusing on cafeteria waste. They observed the current waste system and recognized the need for changes in both the lunchroom and the community’s mentality about waste.

Address the Problem
  • After their research, the Green Dolphins decided that the community needs to be aware of our current waste situation and make zero waste a priority in the school. They outlined two tactics to address the problem:
    • Share basic knowledge of recycling & composting etiquette and other environmental facts to give students the confidence to make better decisions for the environment.
    • Create a proper waste station for the cafeteria to make it easier and more attractive for students and staff to recycle and compost properly and significantly reduce their school's waste to landfills.
Implement Zero Waste Plan
  • Zero Waste Lunch Campaign was run from March to May
    • Info segments in morning announcements on school news network
    • Airs once or twice a week — the Green Dolphins share information about waste disposal etiquette, environment facts, Zero Waste principles, green tips, etc.

Outcomes & Project Highlights:

  • Creating a club that holds space for students to take action and make a difference.
  • Creating consciousness in the St. Joseph community about the impact lifestyles have on the environment.
  • Showing students and staff how simple everyday choices can lower our impact as individuals and as a community by introducing them to zero waste concepts. These include refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and compost.
  • By restarting the recycle program and educating the community about proper composting, St. Joseph School has been able to more than triple the amount of waste diverted from the landfill.
WasteNot Compost Stats:
  • 1,688 lbs of waste diverted!
    • 318 lbs before Green Dolphins Club (October 2021-August 2022, 10 months)
    • 1,370 lbs after Green Dolphins Club (September 2022-April 2023, 7 months)
  • 1,674 miles offset!
    • 474.68 before Green Dolphins Club
    • 1,192.00 after Green Dolphins Club
  • 75 gallons of gas offset!
    • 20.35 before Green Dolphins Club
    • 54.65 after Green Dolphins Club

In addition to quadrupling their landfill diversion, students outside of the Green Dolphins club are becoming more aware of how they pack their lunches and what they consume. They are realizing they can make small changes that will have a huge impact on the environment. They are also more curious about “fixing” the current waste situation by requesting their parents to choose reusable containers rather than individual packets, compostable and recyclable bags instead of plastic, and by hiring their own compost service at home.

Since the Green Dolphins introduced the new waste station students are constantly coming with ideas of how we can improve the waste situation in their classrooms and the rest of the school.

What’s Next:

Building off of the success and excitement from their Zero Waste Lunch project, the Green Dolphins Club will continue in the next year to find ways to promote sustainable living across campus. The next targeted areas for zero waste are the teacher's lounge, admin offices, classrooms, and the concession stand.