Schools are a natural place for recycling because so much school waste is recyclable. Paper, which is the easiest to recycle, makes up most of the waste. Aluminum, glass, and plastic bottles are also easily recyclable. If your school already has a recycling program, try to add to it; if it doesn't, it's time to start.
So many of the crafts described in this book are fun, easy, and educational. Instead of just doing them with your own class, consider having an eco-craft table at your school carnival or open house. Make sure to describe, or have a poster describing, why the craft is good for the planet.
School cafeterias are incredible opportunities for recycling. You may be able to recycle some of the products your school already buys, but other products may have to be switched so you will be able to recycle the packaging. Take some time with your students to assess what's in your lunchroom garbage and how to increase recycling.
You'll need the help from lunchroom staff and custodial workers to examine the garbage, but choose one day when you collect and separate the waste. You might also want to ask parental permission, as well as asking for parent volunteers. Separate the trash into piles of compostable organic waste, plastic, paper, glass, aluminum, and waste. Could your school compost the organic waste? Small schools may have the capacity to compost items on site. If not, is there a local place that might compost your waste? There are sometimes organic-waste compost facilities or else farmers looking for organic waste to feed pigs. Generally when students do this project, they weigh each type of material to figure out how much they could keep out of the landfill if they recycled. Weigh each and multiply by how many days of school there are.
Starting from Scratch
If you don't have a recycling program, build support for the effort by petitioning. Petitions are a fun, strong way to tell people in power that you support a particular issue. If your school doesn't recycle or if your community doesn't pick up recyclables at the curbside, it is about time they did! Recycling is one of the easiest ways people can save energy and protect precious resources. Have your students create a petition form with a statement about the recycling issue at the top. Be sure to have plenty of lines for everyone to sign if they agree with your request. When you have collected all the signatures you can get, put the petition form in an envelope and send it to the leader of your choice. It may be your principal or it may be the president of the United States.
You can also present your petition in person. Call your city's mayor and ask if your class can meet with him or her to discuss an environmental issue that you are concerned about. You may want to present this during a city council meeting or take it virtual by using www.thepetitionsite.com.
Starting a new recycling program or expanding an existing one can be challenging at first. Get expert help by calling your local or state government solid waste office. They often have recycling staff that can come to your community and help with all the logistics of establishing a program that works for your city and your school.
Help your school with recycling by ensuring that there are enough bins and that they are clearly marked. Place bins in easily accessible areas, especially areas that generate a lot of recyclables, such as classrooms, lunch-rooms, teacher lounges, staff offices, and copy rooms. You can use old copy-paper boxes, plastic storage containers, or your community's curbside recycling bin to collect the materials. Have your students make signs to post by recycling areas that show why it's so important to recycle and protect the planet. Have them make other ones that clearly label what goes into each bin.
Next, educate the school's students, staff, and parents about the recycling program and what can be recycled. Make sure staff, students, or volunteers regularly empty the bins. You can even weigh them and set some goals for the future. Create a chart and fill in the weights of recyclable and solid waste once a month for six months. How much are you recycling? Can you increase recycling rates by having classrooms compete? Are the bins in the best locations? Take your story on the road and teach other schools how to start or strengthen a recycling program.
More than 20 million Hershey's Kisses are wrapped each day. Sounds sweet, but it uses 133 square miles of aluminum foil. It's all recyclable, but most people throw it away. How big is 133 square miles? Plot it on a map of your state. Next time you have a Kiss, recycle the foil.
Get out and about to see how recycling works in your community. It's one thing to take on the smaller projects at school, but seeing it on a grand scale is very impressive and is sure to generate ideas and action.
The Full-Size Facility
If your school has a recycling program, you can call the company they contract with to find out about field trips to their facility. Otherwise, you can call your local government office of solid waste management or look up recycling in the yellow pages to find a facility to tour. Your students can learn about the different equipment used to sort the materials, how it's packaged for shipping, where it goes, and what its second life will look like. They can also learn about how much each material is worth and how much the facility processes every year. Has the amount gone up or down over the years? What are some of the obstacles to getting the community to recycle more? What can kids do to help?
New Stuff from Old Stuff
It might take a bit more research on your part, but you can try to find a local business or artist who does his or her own small-scale recycling. You can also look for a local business that sells products made from recycled materials. Green building supplies are especially interesting and are becoming common in most major home renovation stores. You can look at lumber or carpet made from old plastic bottles, countertops made from crushed colored plastic, tiles made from old glass, and much more. The variety of different products being made from recycled materials grows each day and serves as an inspiration for creating more. If you can, compare the recycled-content product with its conventional counterpart. How does lumber made from recycled plastic look and feel compared to wood lumber? How does recycled paper look and feel compared to virgin paper? How does carpet made from recycled plastic feel compared to other carpets?