Since becoming a Trash Free Lunch Challenge (TFLC) finalist in 2013, Riviera Elementary is taking environmental protection to a whole new level.

Working with the students to help divert as much waste as possible, Lori Oliver, a parent volunteer at Riviera, helped allocate the $750 TFLC winnings toward sustainable practices on campus.

“Initially, we came in second for the TFLC in 2012-13, and we used that money to do a couple of things to improve the system,” Oliver said. “We got the blue recycling bins and a dolly to move it, and we switched out the trays so that they are now compostable or recyclable trays instead of Styrofoam, which weren’t as effective environmentally.”

With a passion for sustainable practices, Oliver, who is the chair of the Green Team at Riviera, monitors the sorting station at lunch once a week.

“A couple of years ago when Grades of Green offered the TFLC, another volunteer, Allison Cohen and myself heard about it and took it on,” Oliver said. “She wrote up the application and canvassed all the parents and asked for participants. So I stepped up to help monitor the sorting station, but clearly it required a whole lot more than just monitoring the sorting station.”

During lunch students are welcome to volunteer and help at the sorting station. This also provides an opportunity for kids who are interested in joining the Green Team to fill out an application.

“We let anyone come up and help and hand them applications,” Oliver said. “We have about 25 kids every day who are officially signed up.”

While Cohen may no longer be part of the Green Team program, Oliver took the helm and began recruiting more parents to become involved.

“I got the volunteers on Sign Up Genius this year, and that’s super effective,” she said. “It’s a volunteer program online and it’s really helpful because once I’ve inputted everybody’s days, it reminds them automatically three days before they’re due to come and all they do is stand and supervise.”

As chair of the Green Team, Oliver also coaches the student Green Team kids by providing helpful information regarding the program. She meets with the kids once a month while keeping parents who are part of the adult team informed by email blasts.

Oliver feels that if she can assign a student every day as a Green Team Captain, it will inspire more kids to become involved, as there is a job for everyone.

“Everybody can do it,” Oliver said. “There’s a certain participation at everybody’s ability. Even kids with special needs can stand up at the sorting station and be a part of it so it’s fine.”

While it seems as though Riviera is already on top of their trash reduction game, Oliver knows they can still do more – Riviera is hoping to eliminate the use of plastic baggies and certain juice boxes this school year.

“What I’m trying to do personally is reduce the amount of plastic baggies that are being used,” she said. “That’s our campaign push this year, to use a pouch. We have a poster displayed at lunch showing what’s not recyclable and what you could use instead of those small packages because they’re not recyclable.”

With her countless efforts and dedication toward making Riviera a trash free school, Oliver has seen the growth and determination in the students as well.

“I can tell you that when we first started her the kids were not very civilized, they were not as thoughtful, they didn’t care, they were selfish about their time and their food but now they are,” Oliver said. “Today they walk up very carefully, they’re calmer, and they’re thoughtful. I don’t know what happened but somehow I think it’s translated to a sense of community in a way that we didn’t have before.”

To see how to implement a trash free program at your school, check out Grades of Green’s Trash Free Lunch activity with steps on how to implement the activity with already made flyers and educational tools here.