As if I really needed any more convincing that we moved to an incredibly "green" area, there was a blurb in an email from Riley's school one day about volunteering to help kick off their new Cafeteria Composting Program. I had two thoughts, fairly simultaneously: 1) How awesomely environmentally-conscious and responsible is that? and 2) Oh, baby, this has my name written ALL over it! So naturally (ha!) I responded immediately, signing up for several slots. Then it occurred to me that I might want to warn my child that I'd be...parent-bombing...his lunchtime during the first few weeks of school. You know, just so he could prepare himself emotionally...or whatever.
I brought up the topic in the car one evening as the whole family was driving somewhere together. The first person to formulate a response was Derek, who gave an incredulous snort and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh...we moved to hippie-land!" (Thank you, dear--that reminds me to wear my tie-dyed hemp tee-shirt and Birkenstocks when I show up for my shift...oh wait, I don't own any of those things...not to worry, I'm certain I can purchase them somewhere in the vicinity...) Riley's only comment was, "That's fine, Mom...but DON'T wave to me...I want to actually make friends at my new school!" (After some negotiation, we agreed I could give him a subtle nod...or even say 'hello'...as long as it was in an acceptably understated manner...sigh...)
The first time I showed up (having walked over--it seemed an appropriately low-carbon-emissions way to arrive for such an endeavor) I was given a basic tutorial by the Teacher Supervisor (Mr. G, a 7th-grade Science instructor). There were buckets for the kids to pour out any leftover liquids, trash cans in which to dump trash designated for the Landfill, recycling bins for commingled materials, and one large container for Compostables. This included any uneaten food, paper (even soiled napkins), and cardboard (including the trays used to serve cafeteria lunches). It seemed relatively straightforward...that is, until the swarm of students descended. Some just stood there, waiting for adult guidance about where to place their items. Others simply began chucking things willy-nilly, with no regard about where they landed. It was, in a word, CHAOS.
Besides that, we were hampered by the stupid, complicated plastics. You see, those with the number 2, 4, or 5 on the bottom are recyclable. On the other hand, 1, 6, and 7 are not. (Don't ask me about #3--evidently it doesn't exist, and I don't have any more room in my brain to worry about it at this point...) So when the kids would hold out an empty cup that had been filled with fruit or pudding, for example, this was the procedure: turn the sucker over, locate the triangle imprinted in the plastic, read the tiny little digit inside, turn around and check the helpful reference poster behind us (because for the very life of me, in the middle of all this nonsense I could NOT remember those dang numbers) and sort it into the appropriate location. To add to the festivity, most of the time the remains of food were obscuring the already-nearly-impossible-to-identify numbers, so I ended up relying on the students' younger eyes to tell me what they saw.
Also, if the little diners had left food inside, say, a Ziploc baggie or a potato chip wrapper, they had to toss the edibles into the Compost bin, then throw out the un-reusable plastic. Oh, and while milk cartons and paper juice boxes are recyclable, Capri Sun-type-pouches aren't. The final difficulty lay in the fact that many of the items provided by the cafeteria itself--including each and every plastic utensil and small cup used to hold side items--went into the garbage. That's right, the Food Service company currently utilized by the school system accounts for HUGE amounts of Landfill waste after every lunch period. (When I expressed disbelief and indignation about this, Mr. G confided that there is pressure being placed on the current contractor to "clean up their operation"...or else a different one will be chosen for the next school year. GOOD!)
Finally...I was the crazy lady who, after the students had returned to class, peered into the containers to survey the results...noticed many things had been mis-discarded...and reached right in there to move them to the proper place. (I know---ewwww, right? Sigh...as Kermit would say, "It's not easy bein' green"...) I gotta tell ya, though, despite the ick-factor, it was an oddly satisfying job. Supporting the younger generation in learning about sustainability and environmental stewardship is pretty darn cool. Oh, and I was so busy I didn't even notice Riley when he entered with his 6th grade classmates...but he made a point of saying 'hi' and 'bye' to me, so he couldn't have been TOO embarrassed by my presence. I guess it's a good thing I decided against dressing like my inner Flower Child after all...