Thu May 31, 2012

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School's Out! (But Recycling is Forever)

Published May 31, 2012 on The Huffington Post

By Mattias Wallander
CEO, USAgain

The general sense is that kids can be persistent, stubborn and even throw tantrums when they don't get what they want. But when what they want supports a good deed, such as bringing recycling habits into their home, a parent or teacher can't help but feel proud of their actions. That's how the parents and teachers of a group of California kids must have felt when they petitioned Crayola to take back used-up markers for recycling.

This kind of initiative comes from commitment to an eco-conscious lifestyle, at a very young age. As adults, we should learn from it.

Schools are the ideal environments to teach life-long recycling habits to kids at a crucial moment of their development.

These are habits that kids will bring home to their families, encourage their friends, and eventually stay with them for a lifetime.

The scale of impact that kids can have is substantial. Just like businesses, schools use a lot of resources. Think of just the paper alone. According to Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, "every ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water."

So how are these kids and their schools working to cut back on the use of resources and install environmentally responsible daily habits?

In New York City, K-12 schools are required by law to recycle. Outside of New York, many elementary schools are even starting to incorporate composting by using worms in the classroom. The Composting Association of Vermont has stepped up to the plate and offers free workshops on composting with worms for grades K-8.

And students at a school in Florida smashed records to be named twice in the Guinness Book of World Records. Since 2009, students at Sugg's Manatee School District have celebrated Earth Day by hosting a "Recycling Round-Up." The event aims to collect as many plastic bottles as possible from throughout the school district over an eight-hour period on Earth Day. This year, faced with some competition by an equally motivated school in China, in just an eight-hour period the school collected a whopping 29,560 pounds of plastic bottle waste from around their county! They shattered their previous record and -- for a second time! -- earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Here at USAgain we work with over 500 schools across the country and have collected over 800,000 pounds of textiles for reuse and recycling at these locations just this year. Not only this, our association with some of the keenest minds at these schools has exemplified the important role kids play in spreading sustainable and responsible behavior within their communities. Moreover, we've also partnered with colleges and universities to provide onsite collection of textiles on "move out" days when students are purging anything and everything.

Not surprisingly, universities have really stepped up their game over the past couple of years, with many moving to "single stream" recycling programs that have proven extremely successful in increasing participation by eliminating the need for sorting waste. What commingling loses in (a reduction in the quality of the collected material), it more than makes up through increased appeal of this much simpler process. So, campus waste can now be managed with just three bins: one for recyclables, one for organics, and one (very small and shrinking) for everything else. Some universities have even added composting programs in cafeterias and other campus eateries. Last year, Harvard University recovered more than 8,395 tons of recyclables and compostables, which is an impressive recovery rate of 52 percent.

If you're inspired and want to get a recycling program started at your school, check out Treehugger's Top 10 Tips for Starting a Recycling Program.

If you want to recycle a particular material but don't know how or where you can do so check out Earth 911 for possible resources. Your local or state government recycling or waste management offices or your local chamber of commerce also might also be able to assist you in finding resources for recycling.

One easy thing schools can do to get started and begin to raise awareness is hold a recycling drive, where they can partner with local businesses and organizations to collect clothing, printer cartridges, computers, cell phones, electronics, and more. With all these means at hand, there's no reason for any school not to take an active role in recycling and improving their sustainability. There's no better time to start than today!

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