In this contest, the least-trashy team wins
HINGHAM — Tommy Kornack and Danny Packard play defense, and Alex Adams is a left wing. But today, in the Hingham High School cafeteria, hours before the boys’ varsity hockey team challenges Westford Academy, the teammates have taken their positions for another kind of competition.
It’s called “Slash the Trash.”
This isn’t a test of skill and speed. But the game, which will be played during all three lunch periods, requires agility, focus, and teamwork. And it’s as important for building school spirit and community as the contest scheduled at the Pilgrim Skating Arena later in the day.
The goal of this competition, which started during the 2011-2012 school year, is to reduce the amount of trash high-schoolers generate at lunch every day, by sifting through what they throw out and properly streaming the discards. And it’s working. Two years ago, the school eliminated a dumpster that no longer was being filled up each week.
The intraschool contest is held throughout the fall, winter, and spring sports seasons. Teams take turns supervising at collection stations set up in the four corners of the cafeteria. A penalty point is called each time the school custodian, who serves as referee, finds a banana peel, an aluminum can, or some other compostable or recyclable material in the trash. The lower the score, the higher the ranking. All 32 of the school’s varsity teams — 10 fall sports, 11 winter sports, and 11 spring sports — take part. The team with the lowest score wins lunch from Crow Point Pizzeria, a local favorite.
So far this year, the tally is a first-place tie between the dance team and the girls’ basketball team. In the history of the game, there have been only three perfect scores, all won by the dance team, which took first place in the fall of 2016, winter of 2016, and fall of 2017.
Today, not much happens until the lunch period is almost over and students begin to file past the station where the hockey players, dressed in their red jerseys minus the shoulder pads, are overseeing the separation of throwaways.
One plastic-gloved player shakes a half-eaten apple out of a crumpled bag and tosses the fruit into the compost, and the bag into a bin for recycling. Another picks up a disposable water bottle and drops it into a recycling bucket. A third keeps watch as classmates place compostable lunch trays in a neat stack and dump their paper bags into their recycling bin.
Anything that can’t be recycled goes into the trash. But the goal is to reduce what can’t be reused: With 1,200 students and three lunch periods every day, that adds up to a lot. On the days when no team has been assigned to monitor the stations, students supervise themselves.
“Our hope is that we see a good carry-over effect where students get regular reminders on the “Slash the Trash” days and then do the right thing consistently without supervision on the other days,” school principal Rick Swanson said in an e-mail.
“A lot of families are doing this” at home, says senior Cassie Devine, 17, who is leaving the cafeteria with her friend, Brennah Letorney, an 18-year-old senior who is co-president of the school’s Green Team.
These efforts are also happening elsewhere in the school. In the teachers’ room, they compost what’s left from lunch each day. In the main office, staff do the same with their coffee grinds.
Marshall Terres, captain of the hockey team, and other students say the contest is raising awareness and changing habits. Day to day, it’s no big deal, they say. But in the long run, it could be huge.
“For me, it’s the little efforts, bringing a reusable water bottle every day,” Terres says. “It’s the little things that the school teaches us that I will continue to do for the rest of my life.”
Slash the Trash has drawn attention beyond Hingham. Three years ago, the high school won a national Green Ribbon award from the US Department of Education for its efforts to reduce waste and costs, improve health, and provide environmental and sustainability education.
And last year, a group from Cohasset High School visited the school to learn how they could do something similar.
Swanson “really inspired us,” says Peter Afanasiw, a history teacher at Cohasset High who took a colleague and a group of students to Hingham to learn about Slash the Trash and afterward started a similar program.
“The big part is that kids . . . get the idea that less goes into the landfill,” he says.
As Kornack, Packard, and Adams wrap up their shift this day, a noticeable odor begins to rise from the compost bucket. The pile of compostable lunch trays, which have replaced the Styrofoam ones, is growing. There are more plastic water bottles in the can-and-bottle barrel.
A number of the students filing past the station stop long enough to separate their own trash.
Matt Conway, the custodian who oversees the four collection stations in the cafeteria, is looking over the players’ shoulders, scannng for penalties.
He doesn’t find much in the trash: a couple of partly eaten apples, a sliced orange untouched inside a ziplock bag, a plastic water bottle.
The wave of students passing by becomes a trickle. The athletes keep their heads down and their eyes and hands moving.
A few more paper bags. Another water bottle. An unopened package of peanut butter crackers to separate and discard — and the job is done.
“Good job, guys,” Conway tells the hockey teammates, who at the end are flushed and smiling.