Waste Not

Barrington schools’ new Mindful Waste program moves to the head of the class


story by photo by Susan McConnell

What do 20 tons and Barrington High School have in common? That’s the combined weight of several Jeep® Wranglers in the parking lot, for sure. But according to a group of forward thinkers, that’s not the hoped-for answer to this question. The right answer is that 20 tons is the measurable weight of lunchtime waste created at Barrington High School over the course of one school year—and the Mindful Waste team is helping everyone rethink what’s consumed, and what ends up in a landfill.

Mindful Waste is a new nonprofit in Barrington with the mission of eliminating food waste through education, prevention, and recovery. The nonprofit was inspired three years ago during the process of Jennifer Kainz earning her Master’s Degree in Conservation Biology from Miami University and the Brookfield Zoo. Founded by Barrington residents Jennifer Kainz and Renee Blue, the group recently performed a food waste audit one afternoon during a lunch period at Barrington High School. The results provided an important first step in understanding the level of wasted food and drink.

“This behavior is economically sustainable, but not environmentally sustainable,” says Lauren Conroy, a BHS senior, president of The Green Team, and a member of the HESS Committee (a District 220 committee charged with pursuing Healthy Environmentally Sustainable Schools). “We’re trying to change things before we run out of landfill space, not after. We’re trying to change our behavior.”

Jennifer Kainz and her environmentally smart team, mostly made up of women, has completed food waste audits at Roslyn Road, Hough Street and Countryside Elementary Schools, as well as at Prairie Middle School.

Co-founder Renee Blue says that several moms whose children attend Barrington schools were all noticing the food waste and related issues around the same time, but not together. “In 2014, I realized that Hough students were not separating landfill materials and recyclables in the school cafeteria,” Blue says. “We, meaning the groups of parents working on these issues in the schools, learned that this was the case at several Barrington 220 schools, and discussed the issue at several HESS meetings. After spending considerable time in the Prairie, Countryside, Hough, and Roslyn schools, we realized that we had a far bigger problem than the lack of recycling. Students were sending unbelievable amounts of uneaten food to the landfill each day,” she said.

About 40 percent of the food we buy ends up in landfills each year, according to the EPA. Blue says we aren’t showing our children how to break that cycle. Yet, at the same time, one in five families is food insecure in our affluent area according to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

Partners in Green

Countryside School and the Signal Hill Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) have joined forces and created the Countryside Green Club, which consists of a group of grade schoolers who are ready to change the world. “They are really excited about doing great things for the environment and they are going to be the ones who spearhead the whole recovery program moving into middle school and then high school,” says Kainz. (See sidebar for event information.)

By measuring and categorizing food waste materials under the headings of landfill, compostable, recyclable, liquid, and uneaten material—Mindful Waste develops a baseline from which to move forward to reduce waste and increase composting and recycling efforts, with the goal of having more material composted or recycled and less going to Illinois landfills. Why is it important to keep food waste out of our landfills? Facts roll off Kainz’s tongue. “One in five families in Northern Illinois are struggling with food insecurity.” And if that weren’t reason enough, she continues, “When food goes into a landfill, it releases methane gas which is 23 times stronger than carbon dioxide in its effects on global warming.”

Kainz refers to places like San Francisco and Seattle as models to follow because while the landfills in Illinois have 20-25 years of operation left in their lifecycle, those cities have already run out of landfill space and have paved the way for towns like Barrington who are just now beginning to look at the problem. According to Kainz, “In San Francisco and Seattle it’s against the law to operate any other way.”

The goal of Mindful Waste is to start at the elementary level because the students can then live the rest of their lives according to the lessons learned through Mindful Waste. Kainz reports “These little kids want to please us, and at the grade schools we have seen numbers go down in terms of what is sent to Illinois landfills. They have learned the environmental benefits of keeping food out of the landfills and that it’s a win-win for everyone.”

As a result of the lunchtime food waste audit at Barrington High School, it was determined that more than 50 percent of the food waste was compostable. Moving forward with a program that inserts composting in the entire food supply chain would not only help the environment, but it could be part of the Barrington 220 waste contract and that would offset the garbage collection costs.

“We’re not looking to preach or polarize,” says Blue. “We truly view this as a non-political issue affecting us. It requires a mindset shift, which is the hardest thing to achieve. Change is hard for all of us, but well worth it.”

“It’s not out-of-sight, out-of-mind anymore,” says Kainz. “Once you see this it’s hard to look away.”

To learn more about Mindful Waste, visit www.mindfulwaste.org. To contact Jennifer Kainz, email: jennifer@mindfulwaste.org, and Renee Blue at: renee@mindfulwaste.org.

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Countryside School Green Club Recycle Event

Countryside Elementary School has moved forward with students who are ready to change the world. “They are really excited about doing great things for the environment and they are going to be the ones who spearhead the whole recovery program moving into middle schools and then the high school,” Jennifer Kainz said. Their upcoming event is sponsored by Countryside Green Club and NSDAR. Handouts will be provided at the event for additional recycling options. For event inquiries, see below.

Earth Day Recycling Drive

Saturday, April 16, 2016
From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Location: Countryside School parking lot, at 205 W. County Line Rd. in Barrington Hills.

Items to bring for recycling:

  • Cork—natural and synthetic
  • Styrofoam—all colors
  • Packing peanuts
  • Bubble Wrap
  • Media—CDs, DVDs, VHS, and cassette tapes including any plastic and cardboard cases
  • Batteries—alkaline, Ni-Cad, NiMH, button, car, and laptop
  • Cell phones and accessories

For more information on this event at Countryside Elementary School, contact Jennifer Kainz at 847-846-0816 or email: jenkainz@gmail.com.