BURRILLVILLE – Three third graders at Callahan Elementary School are campaigning to rid the place of unnecessary refuse, and although they’ve already made some progress, they say they won’t quit until the whole district is “foam free.”
Julia Breault, Adam DeCesare and Sean Zanella say they want the school to stop serving food on styrofoam trays. The students have spent the past several months trying to raise awareness of the harm the trays cause when they’re sitting in landfills with posters and presentations, and they’ve already won part of the battle.
Starting next fall, the elementary school will have Foam Free Fridays, a day when students will be encouraged not to take the trays. Trays that are used will be collected, washed, and turned into a creation used to raise awareness of just how quickly the stuff can accumulate.
“We want to build a pyramid out of them,” said Breault.
The project started when the trio watched a report in teacher Rachel Auclair’s classroom about one school that eliminated the use of styrofoam at meals thanks to a student-led movement.
Inspired by the news, the students took their case to Burrillville Recycling Director Andrea Hall. Hall was completely on board.
“They have more excitement and commitment to this than most adults,” said Hall.
Next, the kids made their case to food provider Aramark. The company reportedly told the students they couldn’t eliminate styrofoam from the school completely because the school’s dishwasher is too old, and they don’t have enough workers to wash the plastic version.
“They had a really bad excuse,” said Zanella.
Still, they’re glad they reached a compromise.
“Right now we are warming up the globe more,” said Breault. “We want to make the world better, and styrofoam is just making it worse. They used to use plastic trays. Why can’t they now?”
The kids may have a point. The small second through fifth grade school goes through some 30 trays every day at breakfast, and another 180-190 at lunch. Right now, all of that ends up in landfills.
Next year on Fridays, Hall will help clean, bag and save the tray trash.
“We’re trying to take small steps,” Hall said. “The middle school uses plastic trays sometimes. They just don’t do it here.”
The committed students made a presentation with a slideshow on the project on learning night, and have created posters, hung about the school, to make their case to their fellow classmates. On field day, they’ll put on an assembly before the school.
They’ve also created the hashtag #studentsstompoutstyrofoam.
And eventually, they hope to get rid of the trays completely.
“We’re going to try reaching out to the middle school and the high school,” said Breault.
For now, they’ll continue to raise awareness, bringing the pyramid made from the styrofoam they collect next year to local events like the Burrillville Family Fair and the Green Festival.
“My mom and dad think it’s a really good idea,” said DeCesare.
Hall plans to apply for grant to provide small prizes for the kids who opt not to take the trays.
Next year, the kids also hope to start an after-school environmental club, and they’ve begun educating others about additional items that take up space in landfills, like plastic straws.
“A lot of people have said they’re going to join,” said Breault of the club.
But the kids say not everyone has been supportive.
“Some people think: What’s the point?” said Zanella. “Some people don’t believe in us.”
Breault agreed, but said it’s not going to stop them.
“Some people just don’t care about this,” she said. “We’re just going to not listen to them and keep on doing it.”
Walking outside the school one afternoon, it was clear that the kids have already made an impact, even if only through leading by example. Breault stooped over, picking up a plastic bottle cap littered on the ground and sighed.
“Seriously, people?” she said.
It’s an energy and compassion that seems bound to catch on.