In the 2017-18 school year, Missoula County Public Schools started a partnership with Home ReSource and the city of Missoula to create a Zero Waste Steering Committee whose main charge is to develop district goals that will align with the city’s ZERO by FIFTY Initiative.

The committee, made up of classified and certified staff, administrators, students and trustees started meeting in February and concluded their work together in June. Their recommendations were presented to the MCPS Board of Trustees on Tuesday, June 26 at the regularly scheduled board meeting. The idea is that the district will begin implementing some of the strategies in the 18-19 school year.

The committee, facilitated by Energy Corps service member Katie Anderson and Home ReSource Community Engagement Manager Jeremy Drake, started their work building background knowledge on the meaning of Zero Waste and reviewing a set of draft recommendations based upon the city’s Zero Waste plan-in-progress to see what elements might apply to school district operations.

In subsequent meetings, the committee considered feedback from students and staff about barriers and benefits to implementing Zero Waste goals in our schools. Ultimately the committee’s recommendations following the ZERO by FIFTY framework speak to these core issues: Access, Infrastructure, Education and Policy.

The definition of “Zero Waste” from the Zero Waste International Alliance and adopted by the City of Missoula to guide the ZERO by FIFTY initiative is as follows:

“Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.

Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

The top priorities identified by the committee include evaluating the current capacity within the school district to implement strategies to reduce waste, reuse as much material as possible and recycle the rest.

That includes having each school and department re-thinking the materials and equipment purchased, implementing recycling and composting programs at each of our school sites and reducing our overall waste through strategies like reducing food waste and transitioning to durable food serviceware.

We know that education is the key component to any major change initiative — MCPS will be prioritizing staff education about Zero Waste and ways to achieve it in the coming years. The district also sees the benefit of educating students about Zero Waste strategies.

Our current students will be the Missoulians who inhabit our community in 2050 and it is essential to ensure they have the knowledge, skills and habits to help us achieve a Zero Waste Missoula in the future.

Hatton Littman is communications director for Missoula County Public Schools.

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

Wednesdays and Thursdays through September 27: 2018 Public Tree Inventory. Volunteer opportunity with Trees for Missoula. Shifts for each day are scheduled for 8:45 am-12:00 pm and 12:45-4:00 pm. To sign up, email Marie Anderson at

June 30: The Big Paddle at Frenchtown Pond State Park, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. RSVPhere.

July 10: Adaptive Recreation Event, McCormick Park, event starts at 10:00 am. Call Petra at Community Medical Center Outpatient Therapies at 327-4634 for more information.

July 11: A Closer Look at Western Montana, large meeting room, Missoula Public Library, 7:00-8:30 pm.