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Sustainability in The Dining Hall

The climate crisis is something that Generation Z has been hearing about our entire lives. We learn and talk about it inside and out of classrooms and it will increasingly affect every aspect of our lives. Here at The Northwest School we’re trying to foster sustainability throughout multiple aspects of our school lives, including the dining hall! Bethany, Director of Dining Services, and her team follow a lot of procedures and practices which make our school a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly place to be. 

The Northwest School dining hall is considered a “zero waste” dining hall. This means that we divert at least 90% of our waste from landfills. We do this by having more ways to compost and recycle than we do to throw something in the garbage. In the dining hall, we have one garbage can as opposed to five recycling and five compost bins. Other ways the dining hall reduces waste include only having reusable dishware and utensils, recycling our cooking oil with a biodiesel company, safely repurposing leftovers or donating leftover food to charitable organizations, and much more. Our cooking practices also help reduce waste—vegetables and salads are prepared throughout lunch so only what will be eaten is cooked. Menus are always designed with sustainability in mind as well as the preferences of the students and faculty. This is incredibly important because when food rots in a landfill it produces methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. According to the World Wildlife Fund, if we stopped wasting food about 6% to 8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced. 

Sustainability is a complicated topic that requires everyone’s involvement to make possible. Everyone who uses the dining hall needs to step up and help out! “I would like to see less food waste from students and more of a collective effort by everyone to clean up after themselves during lunch,” Bethany said. This would be easy to achieve; feel free to ask for a smaller portion if you don’t think you’re going to eat a lot. “We also lose a significant amount of utensils each year when they are accidentally thrown into the garbage or compost, which contaminates the waste stream and is a poor use of our resources.” To help out the dining hall, students and faculty can work hard to properly sort compost, garbage, and recycling, and make sure your forks stay out of all three! 

Northwest has long tried to maintain a culture of sustainability in addition to the practical actions we take every day. “I like that baked into our values around sustainability is a sincere concern for people. Environmental justice is a social justice issue and I think we work hard to draw a connection between the two,” Bethany said. “One thing I think we could improve on is everyone’s understanding about why we are committed to sustainability and how these values get put into action at school and in our spheres of influence.” The climate disaster is the biggest threat to our future, so growing up in a school environment that values sustainability is incredibly important. While individual and institution-wide action to move towards a sustainable future is great, it isn’t enough to really make our world sustainable. As we move through Northwest and onto bigger things, we must take these values with us—they’re only the beginning. Climate change is largely the fault of large corporations that both fund and produce absolutely gigantic amounts of fossil fuels. According to The Guardian, even the idea of a carbon footprint was created by a company called British Petroleum as a marketing tool to distract us from the hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide equivalent they were producing every year. In order to fight for a sustainable world with practices that support our natural environment we must consider our smaller communities, like Northwest, but also the bigger picture of who is causing the problem in the first place. Getting to go to school that has a zero-waste dining hall is a privilege that we should take advantage of! Invest in your future by learning more about sustainability. If you ever want to chat with Bethany about sustainability in the dining hall, she would love to!

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