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logo for Bellevue School District's Green Genius program

This year twenty-four schools in the Bellevue School District took part in the annual “Cafeteria Challenge” sponsored by the City of Bellevue, Bellevue School District and Bellevue Utilities. Schools competed to produce the least amount of trash sent to landfill, as opposed to recycling or compost. After weighing everything in, Puesta del Sol won the big prize, reducing waste to just 1.77 grams per student – the same weight as a paperclip!

Each school deserves recognition for their efforts, which have only grown stronger over the eight years the contest has run. Said Nancy Larson, BSD Facilities, Maintenance and Community Use Manager, “we are thrilled to see this level of enthusiasm and engagement. A record number of students took part this year – almost 16,000 students and staff.”

The contest emerged eight years ago out of City of Bellevue, Bellevue School District and Bellevue Utilities’ “Green Genius” program, a longstanding partnership to offer classroom recycling education. “Food waste is a huge area of opportunity,” said “Green Genius” program coordinator Sam Wilder. “The “Cafeteria Challenge” gave us a tool to help schools implement a lunch waste reduction campaign in a way that is both educational and fun for students.”

The results keep improving every year. With the most student involvement to date, participating schools reduced waste by 30% this year over the 2018 contest. And when compared to the national average, Bellevue students look even better.

According to the EPA, the average American student generates 67 pounds of lunch garbage per school year. On “Cafeteria Challenge” measurement day, all 24 schools combined generated 403 pounds of garbage for 15,060 students. That amounts to only 4.8 pounds of garbage for the entire year – 93% less than the national average!

Said Larson, “All of these students worked hard and achieved impressive results. But we also recognize the support and commitment of the whole school body.” Echoed Wilder, “it really is a team effort with the city and Bellevue schools – the principals, teachers, parents, hardworking custodial staff and students – that make waste reduction efforts possible.”

The winning schools with the lowest garbage per student get a recycled trophy and bragging rights for another year. But, says Wilder, “the real contest winner is the environment.”

Participating Schools and Contest Results:

The following schools participated in the 2019 Cafeteria Challenge: Ardmore, Bennett, Big Picture, Cherry Crest, Chinook, Clyde Hill, Eastgate, Enatai, International, Jing Mei, Lake Hills, Medina, Newport Heights, Newport, Odle, Phantom Lake, Puesta del Sol, Sammamish, Sherwood Forest, Somerset, Spiritridge, Tillicum, Wilburton and Woodridge.


First Place

Elementary: Puesta del Sol. With 535 students on measurement day, they were able to reduce waste to just 1.77 grams per student. This is the same weight as a paperclip! Strategies the school used included: earth costumes, Principal engagement with the parent community, student monitors, banners/signs/posters/reader board, showed the City sorting video, promoted eating food and not wasting it.

Middle: Big Picture and Tillicum tied. Big Picture participated for the first time this year. Big Picture’s 368 students and Tillicum’s 787 students were able to reduce waste to 13.6 grams per student or the weight of less than three quarters! Strategies these schools used included: Announcements, posters, assemblies and student monitors.

High: Sammamish. 1,206 students were able to reduce their waste to 9 grams per student, or less than the weight of two quarters! Strategies the school used included: The EnACT Green Genius student team adhered posters throughout the school, announcements on the daily bulletin and Powerpoint presentation for the school.


Second Place

Elementary: Somerset. 671 students reduced waste to 2.3 grams per student or the weight of a dime! Strategies the school used included: Collaborating with the PTSA to promote waste free lunches, involving teachers in educating students on proper sorting of recyclables and compostables, student monitors and monitored progress daily on a large graph in the cafeteria.


Third Place

Elementary: Cherry Crest. 620 students generated 2.7 grams per student which is the weight of a penny. They used the following strategies: Made a video for all classes, made posters, educated in the cafeteria about proper sorting of recyclables and compostables, announcements from the Assistance Principal during lunch and composting napkins.