Recently, there has been some talk at Wellesley Middle School about ending the Litterless Lunch program for the seventh and eighth grades. One day every week, the Green Team inspects the lunches of students in the cafeteria to determine if they are “litterless” – that is, consist only of items that are edible, reusable, or recyclable (apple cores, orange peels, etc. are excepted). The objective of the program is to reduce the amount of waste produced at lunchtime. Participation in the program in the sixth grade is healthy, but significantly lower in the seventh and eighth grades. For this reason, the WMS Green Team is considering replacing Litterless Lunch for these grades with a different program.
It is my opinion that Litterless Lunch should be kept. As a member of the WMS Green Team from 2010-2012, I was heavily involved in the planning and execution of Litterless Lunch, and I believe that it has the potential to be widely successful. When I first began to work on the program, participation was lower than it is now. By the following year, participation had increased by a small amount, but participation in the overall program, especially in the seventh and eighth grades, was still too low. In my time at the Middle School, I observed a very gradual increase in participation, but an increase nonetheless.
The reasons participation drops off after sixth grade are many; they are hard to define and hard to address. This is why it is important to continue to increase participation at the sixth grade level. Getting seventh and eighth graders to participate for the first time is difficult, and for the most part, trying to do this has proved ineffective. This is why participation was so low in the seventh, and then the eighth grade. Increasing participation in the program across all grades essentially comes down to getting a high number of sixth graders to participate, so the effects of students ceasing to participate as they move on to the seventh and eighth grades are lessened.
If Litterless Lunch is allowed to continue, and the number of sixth graders participating each year increases, participation in the seventh and eighth grades will continue to increase as well, assuming the number of students ceasing to participate at least stays the same – of course, it would be preferable if the number went down.
For these reasons, it is important for the WMS Green Team to stay committed to Litterless Lunch. They should work to increase the rate of participation in the sixth grade, in order to introduce each new class to the program. It is equally important to attempt to preserve the participation rates of each class as they enter the seventh and eighth grades, or at least keep them from decreasing significantly. Over time, students will become accustomed to the program, and this should help stabilize participation even more. All of these processes demand the dedication of the members of the WMS Green Team. This is not instant gratification – it will be over the course of several years that participation rates could increase to include the majority of students.
Despite the long period of time that will elapse before participation in the Litterless Lunch program is at healthy levels, I believe that this approach is the best way to foster steady growth in the seventh and eighth grade participation rates for the years to come. Giving up on Litterless Lunch for those grades now would be too premature. If, after several more years, participation rates are not up significantly, perhaps that would be a good time to re-evaluate the program, and consider a replacement program for the seventh and eighth grades. Until then, the WMS Green Team should put their full support behind Litterless Lunch. This will be a long process, but if the WMS Green Team really commits to the program, it will pay off in the long run.