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zero waste

 Crossroads Elementary Engineers Leave Nothing to Waste

Crossroads Elementary Engineers Leave Nothing to Waste

The following blog post was written by Gabrielle Anderson, Spark-Y Sustainability Educator,
on our Spark-Y school program with Crossroads Elementary Inquiry Zone.

Elementary schoolers have the best ideas. This spring at Crossroads Elementary, the ideas have been freely flowing. We always encourage creativity and discovery in the Inquiry Zone, Spark-Y’s realm of enlightenment at this school (a.k.a. where we carry out our programming); one of the expectations posted on the wall is that I won’t always give them the answer. So these 3-5 graders are accustomed to challenges that stretch their young brains. Lately, they have been putting those warmed up muscles to the test with some problem-solving challenges.

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Third and fourth graders are currently focusing on engineering, using trash as a material. At three different stations, students are presented with a pile of waste materials and challenged to build a boat that can stay afloat when piled with pennies, a bridge that can withstand the pressure of a stack of books, or a car that can speed down a ramp and across the room. I have seen boats built out of jar lids, aluminum foil, and straws that can hold 70 pennies! There have been cardboard bridges that can hold 30 books! And the cars - well, the cars could use some improvement. Wheels are hard. These kinds of challenges inspire the kids to experiment, test, and rebuild.


Another batch of great ideas came about recently when I was teaching a lesson about the Engineering Design Process. I presented them with a problem: Because of the shape of the Inquiry Zone, I cannot see all the students at the same time. This makes it difficult for me to know when students need help. What could we build to solve this problem? A few ideas were thrown around. We could install buttons that illuminate lights to show that someone in that area needs help. We could have more teachers in the I-Zone to help (if only!). We could knock down the walls. After a vote, students decided that the best plan was to install a bell system, so if a student needed help, they could pull a string that would ring a bell and alert the teacher of their need. Brilliant! When we concluded the lesson and moved on, one student asked, “Wait, we aren’t actually going to do it?” Maybe now we will.

Crossroads Ambassadors have also been brainstorming. The Ambassadors are given the responsibility of helping make Crossroads more sustainable, spreading the word about the I-Zone, and generally being stewards of their school community. This spring, they plan to build a structure that protects the garden hose. The hose cannot stay outside all of the time for fear that it will get stolen or broken, but that makes watering the garden in the summer a huge hassle, which in turn has prevented the gardens from really flourishing in the past. The plan is to build a durable structure with a lock so that water access is simple and efficient.

Ambassadors drew up designs, with all types of security features and fun details. There are plans for 24 hour surveillance, alarms, and guards to protect the precious garden hose. Of course, these plans will be dialed back and grounded in the realities of budget and time. But other ideas were totally doable: making the structure look like a little house, or painting signs that say a ghost lives there to scare away potential burglars.

Though all of the Ambassadors’ hose house dreams may not come true, working within limitations is an important part of the design process. Besides, it is fantastic that their original designs were lofty, without considering the restraints of money, time, or available resources. I would rather they dream big and scale back than fail to dream at all.

The same can be said about all of the challenges Crossroads kids face in the Inquiry Zone and beyond. If they feel comfortable facing problems and thinking of creative solutions, they will have an easier time facing adversity and making change throughout the rest of their lives. The Inquiry Zone and Spark-Y’s programming there give students a unique space to play and experiment without being told their answer is right or wrong. There are no grades or tests. This environment fosters that freedom to dream big and be creative, which I truly believe is building up the leaders and change-makers of tomorrow.

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Waste Awareness: Lube-Tech Internship Team's Guide for Purposeful Change

Waste Awareness: Lube-Tech Internship Team's Guide for Purposeful Change

The following internship post is brought to you by our Lube-Tech team,
written by: Madeline Reed, Erin Purvis, Taylor Schroeder, and Max Doty

About Lube-Tech

In 1925, an oil company by the name of Jennison Rollins was founded. Later in 1946 Argi-Tec Lubricants was created, and in 1993 Jennison Rollins Oil Company, Argi-Tec Lubricants, and Gopher Oil Company worked together and formed Lube-Tech. In 1997 Rollins Fuel Oil Company merged with Lube-Tech, and by 1998 Lube-Tech started a division to test the oils and fluids they produced. Lube-Tech started working with Randt Recycling, now known as Lube-Tech Liquid Recycling, which provides recycling for used oil, used filters, coolant, and more.

In today’s society, we can’t just cut oil out of our lives. We use oil everyday in our vehicles, heating, electricity generation, and even asphalt and road oil. So how do we lessen our environmental footprint? We recycle. Lube-Tech recognizes this, and they took action. Not only does Lube-Tech distribute oil, they also pick up used oil and used oil filters to be recycled. The used oil goes to one of two places- either to the lab to extract the water from the oil to be resold as used oil, or sold as burn oil for manufacturing of asphalt. Lube-Tech wanted to take it a step further and asked Spark-Y to produce a waste audit of their work space, and that’s where we come in.

Our Project

Within a six week timeline, we were asked to create a waste audit with Lube-Tech. We were given a project brief the first day to help us better understand what we needed to do. The main piece of this project was the waste audit, but it’s hard to write an audit when you know nothing about the company. So the next week we visited three Lube-Tech sites: one in Golden Valley, one in St. Paul, and one in Roseville. On the tours we got to see the behind the scenes of the actions taken to produce, distribute, and recycle oil. The Golden Valley site is the main production site, with roughly 39,400 square feet of production space. This is where the oil is manufactured, distributed, and tested. The St. Paul location is the smallest of the three. Here they don't manufacture any oil, but distribute it to multiple locations. Lastly, at the Roseville location the oil is separated from the water to be recycled and reused into new blends of  oils for a certain need. Although the waste audit is the biggest part of the project, it’s not the only thing we needed to do.

The next thing on our to-do list was creating an awareness campaign. On our tours we noticed how little the employees were recycling, so we decided to raise awareness on recycling. If you were to combine all the office trash from all three locations, about 64% of what was thrown in the trash could have been recycled. So, we decided to create posters to hang around the facilities to help guide the employees on what they can and can’t recycle. These posters were hung around the building as a reminder- RECYCLE!

If you are interested in checking out our audit, download a copy by clicking here
To see what we did each day, download a copy of our calendar by clicking here.

You can make an impact

In today’s age, everyone should be trying to reduce their waste impact. With landfills filling up and incinerators negative health impacts, not to mention the negative environmental impacts both of those waste disposal options have, we should all be trying to reduce the amount of waste that we put in the trash. Taking the step to reduce the amount of waste you put into the trash sheds light on the importance of conducting a waste audit. Without knowing what is in your trash how can you plan on reducing it? If you have a lot of food waste in your trash, maybe backyard or commercial composting are steps you can take to divert that waste. If you have a lot of food packaging in your waste, like ziploc bags, are there changes you can make to reduce that, like purchasing a reusable food container. Identifying items in your trash and finding their proper waste streams can greatly decrease the amount of trash you have.

Everyone knows the phrase Reduce Reuse Recycle and for good reason. One thing that is important to recognize is that they are listed in order of effectiveness to reduce your waste. Reducing the amount of disposable items you use will prevent you from having to find the correct waste stream for disposing them. Reusing items will ensure that you can get as much use as you can out of a product, preventing you from having to buy any more. Lastly, recycle when you can no longer use something, put it in a waste stream where it can be broken down and converted into something else.


These are all guidelines that you can follow and guidelines that Lube-Tech has decided to take to reduce their waste footprint. With their long term goal being accomplishing zero-waste, we have helped to start that process on ensuring that all of their office waste is disposed of in the proper waste stream. Lube-Tech is setting an industry standard, showing that you can be in the oil and lubricants industry while also moving to ensure that environmental impacts are decreased in places where they have that direct control.

“It was so great to be a part of a project that can directly divert waste from going to landfills or incinerators! Lube-Tech is setting an industry standard; that correctly managing waste in office locations is important and possible.”    

    -Madeline Reed

My dream is to be an environmental management consultant, working with the strategic, analytical, and managerial processes associated with the environmental impact of corporate products and processes. Due to that, I was very pleased to hear that I was placed on this team. It provided me a trial run of my future and only fueled my passion for sustainable business even more!”    

    -Erin Purvis

“Working on this project with my group has been a blast! I was able to apply my knowledge on zero-waste living to something bigger- an oil company! It feels great knowing that the work we did will change the oil industry and the world. Living a zero-waste lifestyle is still a new concept to many, but it’s a growing trend, and we helped it expand even further from our homes.”

    -Taylor Schroeder

“I had such a great time during this internship! I got to meet people of all kinds of backgrounds and work with them to finish an assigned task. This was a great way to test my skills and see how I can contribute the most. My favorite part about the internship was the value of everyone’s opinions. I thought Spark-Y did a great job of making teamwork one of the main priorities.”

    -Max Doty