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Palm Beach County, Treasure Coast schools work to become more environmentally friendly, reduce waste

Posted: 7:55 AM, Aug 14, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-15 04:01:15-04
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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — There's new emphasis on "going green" in South Florida and Treasure Coast schools. It's reducing the impact of schools on the environment, and also supporting layers of the curriculum.

You might not expect drinking fountains to make a splash, but Highland Elementary School in Lake Worth says it's happened there.

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Kirsta Brochu, a student at Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, did a research project on the school and helped get the two fountains for Highland Elementary. The fountains make it easier to refill a reusable bottle, which has a small tray toward the back of the fountain with a spout above.

Principal Elena Villani says when the school started counting plastic bottles being discarded, students and staff were surprised.

"It was like 10,000 plastic water bottles that we were just discarding and not reusing," she said.

The new drinking fountains have counters that estimate the number of plastic bottles saved by using refillable bottles. After about four months of use, the school has saved more than 8,000 bottles of water.

The school is one of 20 in the Palm Beach County School District using the drinking fountains.

Lisa Toy, Sustainability Coordinator for the district says it's just one of many elements helping the environment. She says green construction for new schools and facility upgrades for existing schools are making a big difference.

Toy says in 10 years of the district's reusing and recycling policy, the district has increased what's recycled to about 1,000 tons per year.

FAU's Pine Jog Environmental Education Center celebrates and supports programs across the Palm Beach and Martin County school districts. Program Coordinator Lauren Butcher says the environmental initiatives are in all grade levels and all parts of the curriculum, with about 35 percent of schools in the districts trying to be more "green."

"They really cover the spectrum, from developing their school grounds to developing recycling, and energy and water conservation initiatives," Butcher said.

The programs vary in complexity as well. There are "no idling" campaigns in carpool lanes to gardens being maintained to help local pollinators and butterflies.

"Some schools will set up a sharing closet for gently used school uniforms or school supplies, so instead of having things go to the waste stream, if somebody can use it and it's still something that can be passed on. It's a way to extend the life of those things, but also be thinking about the needs of others, and how these things can continue to have a purpose," she said.

Each program has ties to curriculum, like at Highland Elementary, where the counting of bottles is tied into math lessons with comparisons.

Plus, there have been unintended benefits from some programs, like what Principal Villani has seen.

"We actually not only reduced the usage of plastic, but also the use of sugar, so teachers were very happy about that as well as parents," she laughed.

The schools say every drop in the bucket adds up.

"Every year we just add another little effort and eventually we'll just be the model school that everyone's going to turn to as to how to have full green effort," Villani said.

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