November/December 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 2

Going Green: Striving to Reduce Waste at a Middle School

Posted: Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

by Jessica Hunt

Community-based Social Marketing (CBSM) is the current trend in influencing the public to make more eco-friendly choices. Marketing strategies of the past focused solely on dissemination of information while CBSM focuses on removing barriers that make the desired outcome difficult to achieve. This paper details the construction of a CBSM plan to reduce waste sent to the landfill at a public middle school in California. Strategies employed in this CBSM include making the desired action more convenient, prompting, and social diffusion. Strategies for designing your own CBSM plan are also discussed.

The Problem

The planet is currently drowning in human-produced waste, especially plastics. The oceans are congested with pollution, biodiversity on Earth is declining, and the climate is changing (Erikson et al, 2014; Abreo et al, 2015; Javeline, Hellmann, Cornejo, & Shufeldt, 2013). Erikson et al. (2014) found that there is over 250,000 tons of plastic floating on the surface of the world’s oceans. The problem with plastics is not just limited to ocean pollution. Plastics are easily moved by wind and water, take hundreds of years to decompose, and are made from fossil fuels (Jambeck et al., 2015; Baum, Haqq-Misra, & Karmosky, 2012). Diverting or reducing plastic waste is an important topic because of the detrimental effects plastics have on the environment and biodiversity.

Schools are a prime target as sites for waste reduction because of how many people spend their daily lives in a school. In the state of California alone, there are over 6 million students and nearly 300,000 public school teachers (CA Department of Education, 2016). This data does not include students in private schools or non-teaching staff members in schools. Imagine the amount of people who could have a positive environmental impact if school districts around the state were to update procedures regarding waste production and handling.

Community-based social marketing (CBSM) is a strategy that is being used to engage the public in various environmentally-friendly behaviors. Historically, most campaigns that attempted to change individuals’ behaviors focused on education, however, CBSM is a newer strategy that seems to be finding success (McKenzie-Mohr, 2000). The four steps of CBSM will be explained in this paper through the journey of working to reduce waste at a public middle school in California.

Step 1: Research

Conducting research is an important first step in developing a CBSM campaign. Without proper research, it is impossible to know if the cause of an issue is being addressed by the “solutions.” Several layers of research were conducted before beginning the development of this plan. First, observational data was collected of student waste habits in areas where the most waste is generated. Students were observed inside classrooms, outside in the halls, and during lunch. The goal of the observational data was to determine the following things: 1) if students were engaging in recycling; 2) if students were recycling correctly, and 3) what types of items were the most common. The most common waste items would be the target of the CBSM plan.

Another valuable source of data was semi-structured interviews with people who are considered key players in the issue of waste collection and those who are in management roles at the school. Interviews were conducted with the principal, cafeteria manager, and lead custodian. Finally, a literature review was conducted to look for guidance and best practices for moving towards a zero waste lunch, or at least towards waste reduction at school. The research revealed that the most trash appeared to be food waste from the meals students eat at school, so this would be the focus of the CBSM plan. During observations, it was noted that a single student had, on average, seven different waste items after collecting his or her lunch (straw, napkin, plastic utensils, plastic packaging, bowl or wrapper, and paper tray).

In the course of the research, barriers to the desired behaviors were also uncovered. Barriers are the things that may be preventing someone from engaging in the desired behavior — in this case, correctly disposing of lunchtime waste. Many students did not recycle their lunch waste correctly, either dumping all of their waste in the recycle or all in the trash. Another thing commonly observed was students shooting waste at the bins as if they were playing basketball. More often than not, students were shooting their waste at the recycle bin. The recycling cans in the lunch area are the large, rolling type cans, so they are bigger than the trash bins sitting next to them. It seems that the students are shooting their waste at the recycle cans simply because those cans are a larger target.

Once barriers have been uncovered, the target behavior needs to be selected. The target behavior should be one that can overcome the barriers. In this case, the target behavior is getting students to correctly sort their waste into recyclables and landfill material.

Step 2: Plan

An effective plan needs to overcome or even remove barriers. There are several possible tactics to use when designing a CBSM campaign, but the most prominent strategies are removing the barriers by increasing the convenience, creating a social norm, and prompting. When designing a CBSM plan, a person can employ more than one strategy for the greatest chance of success. In this example, the first strategy was convenience – making it simple for students to do the correct thing. Pike et al. (2003) found that student participation in recycling was significantly greater when students were provided with an opportunity to recycle along with education about how to recycle. In the lunch area, every trash can was placed next to a recycling bin, eliminating the need for students to walk around in search of a recycling bin. Next, prompts were placed on each bin directing students what goes in each container the prompts were specific to the items students actually have with them for lunch. For example, in the trash bin, there is an image of the plastic spoon students are given with their lunch, while on the recycling bin is an image of the recyclable plastic bowls. Similar prompts were also created for the classroom recycling bins. Inside each classroom, there is a small paper bin, and a larger bottle and can bin. Students are frequently confused as to what goes in each bin, so this can be simplified with a large, graphic prompt indicating what is to be placed in each bin. According to Kelly, Pechmann, and Reibling (2010), school-based social marketing plans are only successful when the campaign is implemented with fidelity and all participants are on board. To be sure a plan goes well, there needs to be open and clear communication between all involved parties (Hemmert, 2004).

Step 3: Pilot

Once your plan has been developed it has to be tested! It is best, to begin with a limited pilot of the plan, so any problems can be addressed and corrected before the plan is broadly implemented. If the pilot of a CBSM plan is successful, then the campaign can be spread widely; if the plan is not successful then it is necessary to head back to the drawing board, revise the plan, and pilot again.

Step 4: Evaluate

One critical component of CBSM is a method for evaluating the campaign. How will success be measured? In the example described above, evaluation was quantitative data collected by the school district which measured the percent of waste that was diverted from the landfill. When measuring the success of a CBSM campaign, it is important to have actual data to analyze, and not to just rely on what people report they are doing.

Going further

The goal of this CBSM plan was to divert waste from the local landfill as quickly as possible, given more time, permanent steps could be taken to make a positive impact on the waste produced at school.  Suggestions for making a longer lasting impact include changing the way food is packaged at school or getting compostable utensils instead of plastics, but CBSM is a great way to quickly make an impact.        

Literature Cited

Abreo, N., Macusi, E., Cuenca, G., Ranara, C., Andam, M., Cardona, L., & Arabejo, G. (2015). Nutrient enrichment, sedimentation, heavy metals and plastic pollution in the marine environment and its implications on philippine marine biodiversity: A review. IAMURE International Journal of Ecology & Conservation15111-167. doi:10.7718/ijec.v15i1.999

Baum, S., Haqq-Misra, J., & Karmosky, C. (2012). Climate Change: Evidence of Human Causes and Arguments for Emissions Reduction. Science & Engineering Ethics, 18(2), 393-410. doi:10.1007/s11948-011-9270-6

California Department of Education (2016). Fingertip Facts on Education in California – CalEdFacts. Retrieved from

Eriksen, M., Lebreton, L., Carson, H., Thiel, M., Moore, C., Borerro, J., Galgani, F., Ryan, P., & Reisser, J. (2014). Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans: More than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons afloat at sea. Plos ONE9(12), 1-15. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111913

Hemmert, A. (2004). Waste-Free Lunches: A lesson in environmental stewardship. Green Teacher, 7418-23.

Jambeck, J., Perryman, M., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T., Andrady, A., & … Law, K. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347(6223), 768-771. doi:10.1126/science.1260352

Javeline, D., Hellmann, J., Cornejo, R., & Shufeldt, G. (2013). Expert opinion on climate change and threats to biodiversity. BioScience, (8). 666.

Kelly, K., Pechmann, C., & Reibling, E. T. (2010). The Opportunities and Challenges of School-Based Research for Social Marketers. Social Marketing Quarterly, 16(4), 2. doi:10.1080/15245004.2010.522763

McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2000). Promoting sustainable behavior: An introduction to community-based social marketing. Journal Of Social Issues, 56(3), 543-554.

Pike, L., Shannon, T., Lawrimore, K., McGee, A., Taylor, M., & Lamoreaux, G. (2003). Science education and sustainability initiatives: A campus recycling case study shows the importance of opportunity. International Journal Of Sustainability In Higher Education, 4(3), 218-229.


Jessica Hunt is a teacher at Bell Middle school in San Diego, California. 

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From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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Priority Features of NGSS-Aligned Instructional Materials

Posted: Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Recommendations for Publishers, Reviewers, and Educators. The California Science Teachers Association and the science teachers associations of three other Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) west-coast states, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, have co-authored a white paper on priority features of NGSS instructional materials. This is the first time our states have collaborated to convey a common vision on an issue of great importance for the implementation of the NGSS. We understand all too well that for meaningful shifts to happen and to support the full vision of the NGSS, strong K-12 Instructional materials are required. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

State Board Moves Forward Two Key Pieces Supporting CA NGSS Implementation

Posted: Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

CSTA President Jill Grace provides public comment at the November 8, 2017, California State Board of Education meeting.

On November 8, 2017, the California State Board of Education (SBE) took action on two items of import relating to the implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). One item was relating to the California Science Test (CAST) and the other to instructional materials. CSTA provided both written and oral comments on both items along with providing input on what CSTA and many other advocates view as a critical component of our state’s emerging accountability system – student access to a broad course of study. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS – Early Attempts and Later Reflections from an Early Implementer Teacher

Posted: Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

by Christa Dunkel

  • There are so many acronyms! Where do I start?
  • What “baby step” should I take first? 
  • How can I make this happen in my elementary classroom?

All of these thoughts and more swam through my head over three years ago when I began my journey into NGSS. I was fresh from a week-long institute with the K-12 Alliance as part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. Much of the week was spent on digging into the NGSS architecture – how the standards are set-up, how to read the standards, what each of the three dimensions meant. Now that I knew how to read them, I needed to figure out how to implement them into my classroom of 24 eight-year-olds. With some guidance from the K-12 Alliance leaders and my own district-level NGSS team, I began the process with some easy “baby steps.” Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Expanding Your Definition of Informal Science Education

Posted: Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

by Lori Walsh

When deciding on a field trip, zoos, aquariums and science centers typically come to mind. These facilities offer students hands-on opportunities to make science observations using inquiry. Teachers can schedule standards aligned workshops or self-guided visits. If your students have already visited these facilities, you can broaden your options by exploring the larger world of Informal Science Education. Nature centers, non-profits, and environmental groups often also offer NGSS aligned programs in the natural setting. Your students can discover the local environment while making memorable experiences. Learn More…

Written by Lori Walsh

Lori Walsh

Lori Walsh is the Education/Operations Supervisor at SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND California Resort and Informal Science Director for CSTA.