LYME/OLDLYME — After two years of attending meetings, Karen Taylor’s call for a focus on environmental protection has been heard, and a Sustainability Committee was approved by the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education.
“It feels so good, I truly feel listened to and heard,” said Taylor who has two children in the Lyme-Old Lyme Schools and works as a substitute teacher. “I really think this committee will allow us to coordinate efforts and make progress toward recycling and reducing waste in the schools.”
The committee will advise the Board of Education and include 15 members drawn from teachers, Board of Education members, the facilities director, a representative for the superintendent and community members. The committee will explore potential pathways and educational opportunities for students on issues of recycling, waste management and renewable energy.
“There is so much work to be done,” Taylor said. “From installing refillable water stations, to helping teachers manage recycling, to reaching the Sierra Club goals of 100 percent clean energy by 2030.”
The idea for the committee dates to last December, when Jennifer Miller was elected to the Board of Education, and she reached out to Taylor. Miller and Taylor, together with Rebecca Waldo, discussed wasteful practices in Lyme-Old Lyme school cafeterias, including the use of disposable containers and the need for a future-looking, energy conscious plan.
“I would like to see the use of plastic and styrofoam products reduced or eliminated in our schools. The products I am referring to are trays, bowls/cups, silverware and straws. These items are not recyclable,” Taylor proposed at a Board of Education meeting on October 2 and at previous meetings dating to 2018. “Many students walk away from their school lunch experience and think that this practice of throwing away plastics is without consequence. We know that is not the case.”
At December and February meetings, other community members and high school students also voiced similar concerns about wasteful practices.
Waldo has focused on reducing the carbon footprint of local schools.
With the introduction of geothermal wells at the high school and solar panels at three of the five district schools, Lyme-Old Lyme has already made significant strides in reducing electric consumption. Between 2000 and 2020, the annual electric bill decreased by 30 percent, according to facilities director John Rhodes.
“This will help us put together our new strategic plan this coming summer,” said Diane Linderman, chair of the Board of Education. “It will help us have a goal when we do the renovations of the buildings in the next few years. I think it’s very timely.”
Waldo, who operates a renewable energy company, said that there are new methods of mounting rooftop solar panels that would allow them to be installed at Mile Creek school.
“This is a wonderful proposal. It gives an opportunity to pull together so many pieces we have been talking about,” said board member Suzanne Thompson. “This will also be helpful for both Old Lyme and Lyme putting together their Sustainable CT proposals. It would be a benefit to both of the towns if we had made strides toward the governor’s goals of carbon neutrality.”
According to Miller and Taylor, there much yet to be done, and despite substantial efforts to reduce carbon emissions, the schools still have no program to recycle disposables from the cafeterias or classrooms, leaving the responsibility to individual students and teachers.
The committee will begin meeting in April, in time to be able to advise the writing of the school district’s next 10-year plan.