Introducing the Author

My name is Kate Kupchak, and I am a student at New Canaan High School. I am the oldest sister of four. While these two points are seemingly unrelated, many of my experiences as the firstborn have significantly corresponded to my expectations as a student. As the older sister, I was always expected to set a good example for my younger siblings. And being a student at NCHS, I have seen firsthand how the school has failed to master this task.

New Canaan High School: A Mandate to Set a Good Example

Despite being ranked as one of the top public schools in the country, our school still needs to set a good example for current and future generations in stewarding environmental conservation. When it is up to the younger generations to reverse the effects of our predecessors, we must have an ‘older sister’ to set an example. While we have often been encouraged to take on the role of future leaders, we still lack the precedent to recognize the significance of compassion for our Earth.

The Current Situation in Our High School Cafeteria

As students, we are constantly surrounded by plastics. In the cafeteria, you can find an endless supply of single-use items, plastic-wrapped utensils, and wasted food that is likely going straight into the trash. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an estimated 30-40% of food is wasted in America, with about 530,000 tons due to school waste yearly. This waste is not just wasted food but wasted energy required to produce the wasted food and products. Our school directly impacts the climate crisis and the future of the response to this crisis. Without a visible investment to change these habits with the addition of processes for redeemables, composting, and recycling, our future leaders and planet are jeopardized.

Our Neighboring Towns are Outdoing New Canaan

And our neighbors are outdoing us. Towns like Wilton, Greenwich, and Darien have begun implementing programs to set a better example for future generations. For example, Greenwich, as part of its “Waste Free Greenwich” initiative, has recently employed a cafeteria waste reduction program at all elementary schools and is expanding it to their middle schools. Wilton and Darien have both begun composting initiatives in their cafeterias. Collectively, Greenwich, Wilton, and Darien are modeling better sustainable habits for their students.

Schools make up 70% to 80% of all taxes raised, and still, none of these funds go to these programs in our town. Our neighbors are doing better at providing a better example. And New Canaan, as the supportive and compassionate community we claim to be, I, among others, am shocked to see that we are failing to extend these same ideals to our planet.

How New Canaan Can Start Making Changes in Sustainability in Schools

However, the changes we see in our neighbors can also be implemented in our community. We can begin at the elementary schools and establish sustainable habits that will continue with them throughout their lives, as they are currently the most in need of a ‘big sister’ and the most dependent on their cafeterias. Three main areas to address in our public schools are recycling, food waste, and single-use items.


Regarding recycling, there is a clear and straightforward solution for redeeming redeemables. With partnerships with companies like EyeRecycle, we can earn 10 cents per item while reducing plastic waste. Students can also become leaders in this process, and we already have a group at NCHS eager to get involved. This solution is easy and effective, so why not? Not to mention, an immediate financial reward would be earned.

Food Waste 

Composting is an initiative that has already been proven effective by our neighbors to reduce food waste. Although this change might be more time-consuming, a program that takes food waste twice a week to our Transfer Station as part of Curbside Compost collections will not cost residents. It could trigger a change in one of the most significant problems we see in public schools nationwide. As such a high-ranked school system, this effort would be widely accepted and expected of us.

Single-Use Plastics

Lastly, the most glaring issue in our school cafeterias is single-use plastics. It’s essential to address this neglect, especially in elementary schools, where students form the basis of their daily understanding of the world. Do we want to exemplify carelessness and indifference in our children and future leaders? Dishwashers and compostable utensils would prompt enormous growth in our community’s sustainability and the example we set for these kids.

Let’s Lead By Example

So again, why not? Why not lead by example for future generations, the generations that will ultimately oversee the fate of our planet? These generations are continuously being shaped and molded to be changemakers. One day, we can all take on the task of making changes to become excellent examples for others. And I strive for the day when we all can be older sisters in some form or another.

As vice-presidents of the Planet New Canaan Youth Board along with Grace Driscoll, pictured below with me, we and the whole PNC Youth Board hope to work with NCHS to make some of the changes suggested above.  We are ready to lead by example. 

Planet New Canaan Youth Board C-Presidents Kate Kupchak and Grace Driscoll