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Being Stewards and Keeping the Big Picture in Mind When it Comes to Our Waste

By Heather Rigney, Visual Arts Department faculty

As a Quaker School, stewardship is the last “S” of our Quaker SPICES. For review, the Quaker SPICES are simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. In Lincoln’s Lower School, the Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC) has begun the process of examining waste in our school and its impact locally (our own school), regionally (where in Rhode Island does it go?), and globally (where on Earth is the final resting place for our trash?).

The ESC met and decided to utilize a block of time on Friday afternoons. This time is normally reserved for Quaker Studies, where, as a school, we meet both as classrooms and as a whole group. Prior to meeting with classrooms, the committee identified the following areas of focus: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot, and repair. As a whole group, we had an initial assembly where we examined the day’s garbage collected by faculty and staff. We put it all on a table, weighed it, and made a graph. We then watched several videos about waste that answered the following questions: Where does it go? How much do we create? And, where is it all ending up?

This initial meeting of the minds, as well as the forming of the ESC, has fostered wonderful conversations and small, grass-roots efforts amongst our community. For example, Sandrine Dundas, our French language specialist, has been using reusable dry erase markers for the past two years. Ms. Dundas uses a sock to wipe her white board, along with the following eco-conscious efforts, “We only have two sets of color pencils for the entire class and we share. No glue sticks, we use liquid glue only. Whenever possible, we write in a notebook instead of me handing out photocopies. When we glue colored paper, we only use one of each color until it is fully used. My goal is to also avoid putting things in the recycling bin. Also, I don't use markers for coloring, and I have larger erasers once the ones at the end of the pencils are gone. Little things that add up, I think.”

At home, Beatriz Aguilar Hebles, our Spanish specialist, and Ms. Dundas have both chosen to reduce the amount of plastic they take into their own lives down to nearly zero. Ms. Aguilar Hebles accredits this site, Zero Waste Home, as an amazing guide and tool that helps her in this noble conservation venture. The site is a home to a book, a blog, and reusable products to help minimize the average family’s waste. The founder of the site, movement, and blog claims that her family’s annual waste fits inside a single jar!

This article in The Guardian, sparked a great conversation amongst the faculty and staff. Where does our waste go? And, more importantly, are we asking the right questions when it comes to our waste? Who is ultimately responsible? Is refusing a plastic straw enough, or should we be putting pressure on lawmakers to discourage industry waste? Is that a better, more forward-thinking use of our time? We all agreed that in some way, we all need to do our part, and during our Quaker Studies time, we are allowing our students to guide us, the faculty, towards a much-needed, forward-thinking solution.