FOY Fights Climate Change – Eco Challenges in Eastern Ontario


We are a small, rural school in Eastern Ontario with students from kindergarten to grade 6. Our students are from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds and a large portion of them receive milk, snacks, and lunches through different agencies, grants, and donations. Unfortunately, these beverages/foods generate waste (e.g., milk cartons, plastic cutlery, disposable cups) and after attending the Climate Action Youth Forum in Ottawa, our students were inspired to look for small ways to make an immediate impact in our school to reduce climate change and support sustainability.


Part 1
As part of our daily milk program, our small school consumes 375 cartons of milk per week. As a result, we throw out 375 cartons per week, up to 1500 cartons per month, and 15 000 per year. The waste management system in place for our school/school board does not recycle milk cartons and unfortunately, thousands of cartons are all ending up in the landfill. We are a small school of less than 120 students. Imagine how many milk cartons in our school board are being thrown out, especially in some of our bigger schools with 400+ students.

Students who live in our township noticed that they could recycle milk cartons in their own home garbage and wondered why we couldn’t recycle our milk cartons at school. They began the inquiry process to see if our local Mallorytown Waste Disposal Site (WDS) would partner with our school to take our cartons. Even though they were of no obligation to help out, with support of our local councillor, we got permission to bypass our school garbage and take our milk cartons to the Mallorytown WDS.

Their first step was to contact our township office, confirm if milk cartons could be recycled, and if so, ask if they would be able to accept our school milk cartons at the WDS. After a number of positive conversations, and the help of our township employees and elected officials, we were ready to take action! The Mallorytown WDS would indeed support our mission to make a change locally and begin to recycle large numbers of milk cartons from our school milk program.

To advertise and kick off our mission, students designed and created posters to demonstrate how to get the milk cartons ready for recycling (e.g., dump out remaining milk, quick rinse with water, place in the collection bin); designed special milk carton collection bins for EACH classroom; and then prepared oral presentations to demonstrate how to recycle the cartons. They then created rotating schedules to visit classrooms after lunch and collect the cartons, combining each classroom’s cartons into one larger bag. Thousands of cartons were successfully diverted from the landfill and taken into the recycling program, directly reducing waste.

Part 2
Rather than just recycle milk cartons, students were interested in looking for ways to repurpose a portion of our milk cartons. One easy project we began was to take our empty milk cartons and use them to start seedlings for pollinator friendly plants. With soil, compost from our food cycler, and seeds, we began our planting project.

Part 3
Despite preventing a large volume of garbage from the landfill through our milk carton recycling project, students noticed that we were still being irresponsible with single-use plastics that were used in our nutrition program. We are lucky to be able to offer our students nutritious snacks, especially for students that may be living in poverty, but the negative downside is that we are using plastic spoons, plastic forks, bamboo spoons, bamboo forks, and plastic solo cups (for water) school-wide. This is wasteful, costs money, and does not foster sustainability. To reduce plastic waste in our school, students thought it might be a good idea to have stainless steel cutlery that could be washed and reused, much like the cutlery used by staff in the staff room.

Access to our staffroom dishwasher is off limits, and to overcome this, we purchased a portable countertop dishwasher, some cutlery, and some dishwasher safe cups to directly eliminate single use plastics in our school. Clean cutlery and cups are available at a central “lending” location in our school. These items are clearly labeled and can be used by anyone who needs a spoon, fork, or cup. Additionally, small bins were placed in each wing to collect the dirty items. After lunch, a group of junior students collect the dirty items, take them to the dishwasher, load the dishwasher, and get them cleaned. At the end of the day, the dishwasher is emptied and the fresh items are placed back into the central “lending” location.

Part 5 (Future)
Students are beginning to think about pollinator garden designs and bigger planting projects for the upcoming school year. The intent is to continue to repurpose our milk cartons to plant seeds, use compost from our food cycler, and plant pollinator friendly gardens on our school grounds. Possibly even have a plant sale next year.

Reflection & Celebration

Final Thoughts

Students are amazed at how quickly the milk cartons piled up each week. Just looking at a few weeks worth of cartons was a bleak visual of how many cartons end up in landfills week after week, month after month, year after year. One small step to contact our local township and ask them to accept our milk cartons for recycling, bypassing our school waste management system, ended up saving tens of thousands of cartons from the landfill.

Our students are inspired to share their actions with other schools in our board to teach them how to set up a milk carton recycling program, too. Moreover, students are wondering why our school board doesn’t recycle cartons. Or why the milk companies don’t have a program to take back their cartons. Going forward, our students have big plans to find out more, find out why, and find out what needs to be done to make a positive change for the future of our planet and help reduce climate change. The Climate Change Youth Action Forum and the LSF funding was just the spark we needed to start looking for small ways to make a big change locally and hopefully inspire other schools to take action, too.


Check out our Earth Rangers Club website here!

12. Responsible Consumption and Production
13. Climate Action
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