At a kick-off event last Friday, Lyons Middle/Senior High School officially became the newest “Green Star School” in the St. Vrain Valley School District, and the second Green Star High School in Boulder County.

Launched in 2006 by Eco-Cycle, one of the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit recyclers, the Green Star Schools program helps students, teachers, and administrators learn

about Zero Waste ethics and practices, and fully integrate them into daily school life. Lyons Middle/Senior High School is the eleventh school in the St. Vrain Valley School District to join the Green Star program. Lyons Elementary has been a Zero Waste leader for nine years now as an Eco-Cycle Green Star School.

The Green Star School kick-off is the first big step in a partnership with Eco-Cycle to help the Town of Lyons achieve Zero Waste goals outlined in its new Sustainability Plan. With support from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant, Eco-Cycle and community leaders hope to inspire everyone in Lyons (schools, businesses, government, public events sponsors, and neighborhoods) in the effort to reduce waste by ninety percent or darn near. By pursuing creative ways to reduce waste in the first place, reuse as much stuff as possible, recycle, and compost, the groups are optimistic about achieving an ambitious Zero Waste goal.

“We want to move Lyons Middle/Senior High School, and all schools in Boulder County, as close as possible to Zero Waste,” said Michele Melio, Eco-Cycle’s Green Star Schools Program Manager. “We want students to be inspired and to carry Zero Waste practices to their families and throughout their lives.”

Melio noted that Zero Waste is one of the fastest, easiest, most cost-effective ways for communities to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change, and she explained what makes Eco-Cycle's Green Star Schools unique: compostables are collected throughout the entire school, including lunchroom, kitchen, classrooms, offices, and restrooms (paper towels); waste reduction is emphasized (in addition to composting and recycling); Zero Waste becomes part of the school’s culture and daily routine as students and staff become fully engaged and invested; Eco-Cycle provides extensive and ongoing support, environmental education, special projects, and incentives/rewards to participating schools.

As a result of the program, participating schools are recycling and composting an average of two-thirds of their discards instead of sending them to the landfill. Students and staff are learning to be good environmental stewards and taking their knowledge and new behaviors home to share with their families.

Increased environmental literacy and behavior changes that lead to reduced waste are a key focus of the program. Students participating in the Green Star Schools program gain insight into how their decisions and actions affect the environment, and they learn to think critically about their own consumption. They also gain the tools they need to take action to keep our environment healthy for the future.

The Green Star Schools program strives to be as inclusive as possible. Currently, twenty-five percent of Green Star students are part of the free and reduced lunch program (low income), and nearly twenty-nine percent are from populations of color. New schools added in 2016 include Indian Peaks Elementary in Longmont, which has a student population that is ninety-seven percent low-income and ninety-eight percent Latino.

Before 2010, the Green Star Schools program was primarily focused on the elementary level, until Eco-Cycle started to get dozens of requests from middle school staff, parents and, most importantly, student graduates of Green Star elementary schools—a sure sign of success.

Today, graduates of the pilot middle schools are entering high school and asking for Zero Waste opportunities for their schools. Thus far, to serve an older age group, Eco-Cycle has added six middle schools and one high school (New Vista), plus Lyons Middle/Senior High School, Horizons K to 8th grade in Boulder, and Monarch pre-kindergarten to 8th grade to the program.

Lack of funding is a big part of the reason why so many schools are still on the wait list. Launching a new Green Star School takes a significant initial investment of time and money to create the necessary infrastructure, include bins in every classroom, print signage and training and educational materials for staff, teachers and students, among other things. Altogether that adds up to about $15,000 per school.

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