Recycling in School

By Shawn Dell Joyce

August 31, 2009 5 min read

In our culture, it often seems that our children are much more progressive than many of us stodgy old-schoolers. Most kids can text, download MP3 files, and tell you what their carbon footprint is without missing a beat. The rest of us probably have a hard time doing even one of those things.

Michele Daly, a senior at Washingtonville High School, in Washingtonville, N.Y., has been trying to get a recycling program going in her school for years. She and her friends are incensed that recyclables are tossed into the trash cans in the cafeteria. Daly and her friends are working with a Syracuse University Project Advance public affairs class to set up a recycling program in her high school.

The school's principal and staff have been supportive of the children's efforts, however no funding has been made available for recycling bins. Daly and her friends have been turning in recyclable bottles and cans and saving the money to pay for bins. So far, they have collected almost $50. Daly plans to ask charitable organizations to help.

Teegan Kennedy is a fourth-grade teacher at Goshen Intermediate School, in Goshen, N.Y. She has worked with her class to establish a yearlong recycling program in the school. Using her own money, she purchased recycling bins, which her students decorated and placed outside the doors of their classroom and the teachers room. The students wrote a compelling letter to the teachers urging them to use the new recycling containers. Every Friday, her class collects and weighs the paper and plastic and then posts the numbers on the doors to encourage more recycling.

So far, the kids have recycled 2,203 plastic items, including water bottles and yogurt containers, and 244 pounds of paper. While that may seem like a lot, it is only one classroom's worth of waste. "We're trying to let other people see that if all nine of our fourth-grade classes recycled roughly the same amount during the year, we would have recycled approximately 19,827 items. If all the third- and fifth-grade classes also participated in recycling, our numbers would be around 36,054. Paper weight would be over 2 tons," Kennedy says.

Now multiply Kennedy's figures by the number of elementary schools across the country and the need to set up school recycling programs really adds up. Kennedy's class has been graphing their recycling progress and is working on a school newspaper to encourage other classes to adopt their recycling and composting program.

"I would love to share with others what they have done. I think we're at a critical point with our environment where people are finally starting to listen, and if a room full of 10-year-olds can do it, so can anybody else!"

Want to start a school recycling program?

—Decide what can be recycled, e.g., paper, plastic, printer cartridges, batteries, clothing, etc.

—Set up a committee or club responsible for the program.

—Determine who will get the recyclables to the transfer station. It could be a custodian, parent, volunteer or trash company.

—Determine where recyclables can be stored until transport.

—Count how many classrooms, lounges and cafeteria recycling containers will be needed, and raise money for containers.

—Have committee or club members make presentations to each classroom about the importance of recycling.

—Weigh and measure recyclables, and post this information for the whole school to see to encourage more recycling.

—Hold contests and competitions among grade levels or classrooms to see who can recycle the most.

—Try to fund the whole program by collecting bottle return money and selling arts and crafts from reused bottles and paper.

—Let the young people lead the way, and try to keep up!

Go to It is a great resource for teaching materials on starting a school recycling program.

Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at [email protected] To find out more about Shawn Dell Joyce and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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