The power of peer-to-peer learning

In the face of information overload when it comes to our unraveling climate, I constantly second-guess myself. Sure, we do a lot of good stuff, all geared toward carbon footprint reduction while encouraging wise choices for consumption, diet, efficiency and renewable energy.

But are we making a difference at the scale that’s necessary?

I beat myself up over this every day, but lately I’ve been thinking ECI might be on to something meaningful: zero waste cafeterias.

Oh zero waste cafeterias, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways; a zero waste cafeteria:

1) Diverts plastic, paper and cardboard waste from the landfill to the recycling system, reducing greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide.

2) Diverts food waste from the landfill to composting, reducing greenhouse gases in the form of methane.

3) Rescues safe, edible food from the landfill to share with food insecure (i.e. Food Rescue).

4) Promotes youth leadership: They have to convince adults to change the cafeteria system, then the kids are responsible for running the system.

5) Promotes problem-based, systems thinking learning opportunities. This systems-thinking approach should lead to source reduction — i.e. replacing current materials with materials that are more easily recycled, etc.

6) Promotes peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

7) Maybe even changes the education system itself to emphasize youth-led, solutions-based action to reduce harm to our environment.

Fortunately, my Climate Camp director Kristina Hulvershorn is connected to IPS School 91, where the zero waste action is taking place here in 2018. Two sixth graders, Sophie (left) and Ella, took this project on, with Kristina’s guidance, and in the process trained nearly 100 fellow students at their k-8 public school.

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They required and received support from their principal, Kathy Lause, their cafeteria manager, Mr. Carter, and a host of School 91 administrative and faculty members.

Now, not only are Ella, Sophie and crew reducing their cafeteria waste by 75%, they are also finding lots of opportunities to educate students in other schools who are similarly bit by the zero waste cafeteria bug.

So while there’s an entire list of things to love about this project, let’s concentrate on #6, peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

Last spring, Oaklandon Elementary School visited School 91 to observe how a zero waste cafeteria works. See below:

Above, Ella, standing, debriefs the cafeteria project with Oaklandon Elementary students.

Above, Ella, standing, debriefs the cafeteria project with Oaklandon Elementary students.

Since then, Oaklandon has begun to gather data on what they throw away each day in their cafeteria.

In November, students from International School of Indianapolis visited School 91 to study their zero waste tactics. See photo below. They returned to their school to scheme on their own cafeteria project.


In November, students from Noble Crossing Elementary in Noblesville saved some travel carbons and skyped with Sophie and Ella:


And also in November, student leaders from nearby Christ the King Catholic School visited School 91 to observe.

This is the real power for change, as far as I am concerned: Kids teaching kids. Our roles as adults is to support our young people as they engage in the hard work it’s going to take to repair our damaged environment.

If you are interested in learning more, email me at:

Next week, I will accompany Orchard School second graders as they visit a Beech Grove school that is composting its food waste. More peer-to-peer learning to come!

Andy Fry