Camp Garbology

I’m a chaperone on my son’s 3-day, 5th-grade outdoor education trip. We’re on a bus heading back from a camp in Santa Cruz. As my head bobs against the cool glass window, I’m jarred out of a twilight sleep when the coach lurches and downshifts while descending Route 17. Kids in the front are singing in rounds; boys in the back are being separated for getting too rough. I’m just checking that I haven’t been drooling against the seat when a 5th-grade girl in front of me leans around and stares at my flickering eyelids. “Wha-cha-do-in?” she chimes. Before I can answer in more than mumbles, she notes: “You have dark circles under your eyes.”  She takes a bite of an apple. She’s eaten it from the top – core and all. “I’m part of the hard-core-apple-club,” she beams. “Red Tail showed me how.”

Red Tail was the nature name for the camp counselor who led the garbology exercise. After each meal, the kids scraped leftovers onto a scale and weighed them. Then they talked about how what remained affected the energy cycle. Sure I enjoyed Guinea Pig’s acoustic guitar version of the camp song “FBI:  Fungus, Bacteria, Invertebrates” and wiggling with kids while singing the Santa Cruz Banana-Slug song to the tune of “Twist and Shout.” I also really appreciated the cabin rules my student group laid down such as “no using big words” and “absolutely no gambling,” but it was the garbology experiment that caught my attention.

In three days, our group of 60 kids went from producing 9 pounds of leftover food at the end of their meals to 3 pounds. A pretty good change just because they were conscious of it. Taking what you need and not more is a good lesson for kids (and adults). What I really liked about the experiment was that it taught conservation and in my book—whether you’re a business owner looking for efficiencies, a farmer hoping to reduce waste and increase yield, an individual looking to lessen your carbon or energy footprint, or a city looking to reduce waste—conservation is an essential lifelong lesson. It has only positive implications for everyone. No doubt that good habits start young, but we all can create new habits at any age.

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