Vernon Hills High School: School-Wide Zero Waste Strategic Plan

Students: 12
Staff: 4
Mentors: Damon Henrikson & Chris Philbrick
Location: Vernon Hills, IL
Grade Level: High School

Our project was unique in the sense that we had already begun a Zero Waste program at Vernon Hills High School in our student cafeteria, however, there was no strategic plan in place for the project when it began.

It was determined that VHHS begin a Zero Waste program this school year (Fall 2021) after a significant pause in discussion/planning due to the shutdown of school in March of 2020 along with the ensuing pandemic. This decision gave us only a few months to put together what was necessary to launch a Zero Waste program when school began in August 2021. The mentors I was so fortunate to get partnered up with provided much needed insight into and organization of this terrific program and aided in the production
of how we are carrying out Zero Waste here at VHHS. This will provide a much needed foundation as Zero Waste grows and extends into many other parts of the school building.

Our team began by going over and laying out the history of how our program got started. This is how our
timeline began to come together. Once the timeline was put together we then built a list of resources and
created a separate document describing the steps carried out in the cafeteria each day to work toward the
goal of zero waste. Then our team worked on two separate grants. Because our program will require more
permanent waste bin streams, we not only applied for the IL Green Schools Mini-Gran but also applied for
our district's Innovation Grant. Finally, time was spent proofreading, refining, and updating the strategic
plan documents as improvements to the Zero Waste program were being made in preparation for
submission.

Due to time and management constraints, our Zero Waste program did not improve tremendously in terms
of student involvement and participation. We did improve on the efficiency by turning our focus away from
student produced food waste and looking at that which was not sold at the end of food service in addition
to left over scraps from food prep in the kitchen. We have increased the weight of food waste collected by
nearly double as compared to the beginning of the school year. Next fall we hope to perform a food waste audit in an effort to gain more data to evaluate the success of the food scrap collection.

Secondly, our program is now well organized and documented making it easier for a future team to know and understand the process. This will enable our school to continue to work toward the goal of zero waste not only in the cafeteria but also extend to other parts of the building. The strategic plan is ready-made for a team once it is put in place.