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A Green Machine | With the school leading the way, Holy Redeemer Parish aims for zero waste

During World War II, the illustration "Rosie the Riveter" depicted a determined woman filling a man's dirty, factory job to help American troops fight the Axis powers.

Fast-forward about 75 years and you'll find a just-as-determined woman working in another dirty job to help her parish community fight a pressing issue of the day.

So it was that Jamie Hasemeier — dressed similarly to Rosie in a green bandana, a denim shirt, an apron and gloves on a late March day — unglamorously was sifting through garbage at Holy Redeemer Parish's fish fry.

Yes, garbage.

She was being a responsible global citizen, in search of refuse that should have gone into other bins for recycling or composting, not the one destined for the dump.

Several such stations had been set up to intercept trash otherwise headed to a landfill from the fish fry — a Lenten staple in St. Louis. Each station had three color-coded bins: yellow for compostables such as food waste and specific plates, carry-out boxes and cutlery designed for compost; blue or green for regular recyclables such as cans, aluminum foil, plastic cups or bottles; and gray for landfill garbage.

Taped to the wall above the latter bin, Pope Francis was pictured in the Home Alone-pose, asking emphatically, "Landfill Really?!?" — hopefully inspiring fish fry patrons to use the appropriate receptacles, with "hopefully" being the key word at this stage of the game.

Though composting debuted in a trial run at parish fish fries last year, this is just the first year of full-on composting at fish fries, other parish events and the parish school. It's such a new concept that parishioners still are learning what trash goes in what bin, hence the need for Hasemeier to willfully have her nose in the garbage. Also, volunteers such as Deacon John Flannigan and Barb Wilmes needed a quick refresher before taking their posts to guide patrons at trash stations.

The greening of Holy Redeemer might be a slow process, "but I'll take it," Hasemeier said, adding, "It's just little things, planting seeds and trying to change people's perspective and habits little by little ...You give a little information, cross your fingers and hope it works."

Going green

Holy Redeemer's quest to be the archdiocese's greenest parish is in its third year, or since Florissant natives Jamie and Mark Hasemeier returned to St. Louis from Chicago four years ago with their four children. Hasemeier's green-weaver train was well underway by that time, with the children inspiring her to climb aboard.

"It started with cleaning products," she said. "I had cleaned the bathtub and then I was going to put my daughter's little baby body in the tub with chemical residue. That started my wheels turning and it's just an evolution once you start thinking of the earth in a different fashion."

When her children reached school-age, Hasemeier teamed with a friend to form a "green" club at their school, to simply enable her children to hear a consistent message about environmentalism as they heard at home. Upon relocating to Webster Groves, her three school-aged children wanted to form a "green" club similar to the one at their old school in Chicago.

With enthusiastic support from principal Pam Galluzzo and the parish pastor, Father Kenneth Brown, the Green Machine was born for fourth-through-eighth-grade students at Holy Redeemer. In Year One, the Green Machine addressed cars idling, wasting gas and belching greenhouse gases in the parking lot at drop-off and pick-up times. It added aluminum cans and plastic bottles to paper recycling, built awareness by placing signs pretty much everywhere and showed students, teachers and staff how easy it is to be green.

Attention soon came the school's way. Holy Redeemer earned top honors in the U.S. Green Building Council's Green Schools Quest for its initiative to stop idling. It has been a Green Schools participant for three years running.

Still, the school and parish needed to do more in its evolution as a green parish, so composting was added at fish fries last year. Hasemeier described Lisa Reed, now in her third year running fish fries for the Catholic Women's League, as "an incredible partner as we've (added) to the composting efforts."

Then, Jim Biggs entered the picture as technology teacher this school year. A teacher for 15 years, in public elementary school and Catholic high school, Biggs worked for the past two years in sustainability education at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Though he considered it a dream job, he missed the classroom and chose Holy Redeemer for his Catholic teaching comeback "because of their dedication to being more sustainable. They were ready in go full-on into sustainability because they had done so much already. With Jamie here, it was an easy choice, (and) we decided it was time to push the school further ahead."

Zero waste

The term "zero waste" means just that, zero waste — as in none, zilch, nada — and Holy Redeemer's ultimate goal "in the next two or three years," Biggs said.

Adding composting at the school this year has diverted three times as much trash from landfills as only recycling did just a year ago. Biggs estimates that about 65 percent of the school's garbage gets recycled or composted, with the other 35 percent heading to a landfill, whereas he figures 20 percent went to recycling and 80 percent to a landfill before composting.

Commercial composting, secured by Hasemeier through St. Louis Composting, has "really enabled us to drop our waste-stream dramatically," Biggs said. "It's an amazing difference."

Food waste from fish fries is only a drop in the proverbial bucket, way behind the massive amount of food waste generated on a daily basis in the school's cafeteria through the hot lunch program. All of that gets composted now, along with compostable trays, plates and cutlery made with corn starch rather than petroleum.

Such waste requires commercial compost, as opposed to compost tumblers for yard waste in many back yards.

"It has to be commercially composted in something quite large because it gets hotter," said Biggs, who previously taught environmental biology at a Catholic high school. "Commercial compost pickups made it a possibility."

Making an impact

Through the Green Machine, fifth-grader Mia Siems has been learning firsthand about recycling, looking at labels for recycling information and putting plastic bottles and the like into the appropriate trash bin. Younger students in school are being mentored about recycling by older Green Machine students whose enthusiasm is infectious.

The club "is a lot of fun," said eighth-grader Clara Hasemeier, Jamie and Mark's oldest. "It's an awful lot of work, but I thoroughly enjoy it."

Before the fish fry on March 24, Clara and Jamie Hasemeier sat on the hallway floor outside the cafeteria and made signs touting the school's and now the parish's quest to be green. The signs dotted the entry way for patrons to read while waiting in line.

Neighborhood resident Sarah Fischer was impressed, marveling at the parish's "big commitment."

Likewise, school mom Jenny O'Connell, who found the instructions easy to follow.

"They have everything labeled, and the visual aids are making it easy for everyone," said O'Connell, who has two children in the school with the second-grader already talking up the Green Machine. "It's a big deal. The kids are excited about it."​ 

Inspired by Laudato Si'

Describing Jamie Hasemeier and Jim Biggs as enthusiastic and excited about Pope Francis' "Laudato Si' (On Care for Our Common Home)" encyclical just might be an understatement. "Wildly ecstatic" might be a more apt description.

When the encyclical came out in June 2015, Hasemeier already was working to green up Holy Redeemer School in Webster Groves and Biggs was working in sustainable education at Missouri Botanical Gardens, so Pope Francis reinforced their work and took it to a higher level.

"When that came out I was overjoyed," Hasemeier said. "It's not just about Catholics or Christians; he's pleading and reaching out to humanity with that encyclical. ... Pope Francis connects (care of the environment) to human beings and the poor. As Christians, being followers of Jesus, we have to take care of the poor. That encyclical is very powerful."

Biggs read it in one sitting two or three days after it was published, then read it again to highlight quotes for presentations at other parishes "that encompass "Laudato Si'" for people who haven't read it."

"One little line stands out. Pope Francis said, 'Everyone needs to have an ecological conversion,'" said Biggs, who proudly calls himself a "green nerd." "My talk is to try to get everyone to have an ecological conversion." 

Green parish

In addition to the Green Machine at school, Holy Redeemer Parish has several initiatives in the care of our common home. The parish's aptly named Our Common Home Ministry has been hosting a series of presentations by the Green Nuns, better known as the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The third and final session, a reflection on "Laudato Si'," will be Tuesday, April 4, at 7 p.m. in the church. In addition, the parish is hosting an electronics-recycling event Saturday, April 22, 9 a.m. to noon, in partnership with Midwest Recycling Center. 

>>Green Schools Quest

Seven Catholic schools from the archdiocese are among 47 schools participating in the 2016-17 Green Schools Quest from the U.S. Green Building Council — Missouri Gateway Chapter.

• Christ, Prince of Peace School

• Holy Redeemer School

• Little Flower Catholic School

• Marian Middle School

• St. Francis of Assisi School

• St. Louis University High School

• St. Mary Magdalen School 

Compost 101

For a parish that wants to go green in a big way, it first needs to make certain it's being thorough with simple recycling, in terms of paper, plastic, cans and bottles. Once those basics are covered, the next step is commercial composting such as at Holy Redeemer school and parish in the past school year. School cafeterias and parish events such as fish fries and dinner auctions generate a huge amount of food waste, better served for commercial composting than landfills. Specific compostable dinnerware, trays, cutlery and cups are an environmentally friendly option as opposed to environmentally unfriendly polystyrene foam containers.

In addition, there are several resources to explore:

• Missouri Botanical Garden www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/sustainability

• Green Dining Alliance www.greendiningalliance.org

• U.S. Green Building Council www.usgbc.org

• St. Louis Composting www.stlcompost.com 

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