January 15, 2010
Dryden students find gold among garbage
Recycling program wins top honors from DEC as school district cuts down on waste
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Green team ambassador J.J. Parkhurst, a fifth-grader, center, monitors the recycling bins as fellow fifth-grader Jasminne Ayers sorts through her garbage following lunch Tuesday in the Dryden Elementary School cafeteria.
DRYDEN — Fifth-graders swarmed around J.J. Parkhurst as he monitored where they were putting food containers and food scraps Tuesday, after finishing their lunches.
Five 65-gallon bins stand along one wall of Dryden Elementary School’s cafeteria, labeled by what students should put in them: trash, unopened milk and juice cartons, empty cartons and food, liquid and paper napkins.
Students plucked items from their trays and put them in specific bins.
A few feet away, similar bins sat lower to the ground so children in kindergarten or first grade could see what they contained and what to place in them.
Parkhurst, one of 80 fourth- and fifth-graders who serve as “lunch room ambassadors,” advised them when necessary.
“I like it because it’s fun and it helps the environment and our school,” he said.
Dryden Central School’s program of recycling cafeteria waste has continued to grow since teacher Danny Fairchild introduced his fifth-graders to the idea in May 2008, as an ecology lesson.
As of December, the district’s four buildings had recycled 132,000 pounds of food and 8,000 pounds of cartons since the program started.
In November, Dryden was named the winner of the 2009 New York Recycles Challenge, a competition sponsored by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The district has saved money on the amount of garbage taken away.
Fairchild and his students made a presentation to the Spencer-Van Etten and Newfield school districts about their program and are planning to present it to the Owego and Homer districts, as well as Lime Hollow Center for Culture and the Environment.
“This blossomed into a full-blown composting project for the district — it’s saving them money and it’s also the right thing to do,” Fairchild said.
The ambassadors, chosen on recommendation of teachers while they are in third grade, guide students concerning where to place items in the bins. Once a week, they go to the primary wing to collect juice and milk cartons used in breakfast and snack time.
Twice a week, another group called the “after school ambassadors” reviews the bins to continue the sorting, removing items that do not belong in certain bins.
The program began when Fairchild’s students studied what it would be like to recycle for six weeks, then put together their data and showed it to the Board of Education and district administrators.
They thought composting and recycling would help reduce the stream of waste, so they placed bins in the cafeteria — and found that the Dryden Elementary cafeteria produced 1,200 used milk and juice cartons per day.
The students proposed making the bins permanent. The district liked the results and introduced the program in the other three buildings’ cafeterias.
“This started because one day I brought my class in here, and I had asked the custodians to set aside trash,” Fairchild said. “I asked the students what they saw. In the trash, to be thrown out and put in a landfill, they saw mostly recyclable or compostable materials.”
Two weeks into the students’ six-week project, they saw that the school’s weekly garbage had shrunk from 20 bags to 13, each bag holding 50 gallons.
The costs to the district lie in the recycling and trash hauling contracts.
The compost is removed by Cayuga Compost in Trumansburg. The students place used paper towels from the bathrooms on the compost bin’s bottom and over the top, to absorb liquids and keep insects away.
The recyclables are removed by Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga BOCES, except for the cartons, which end up being put in landfills — for now.
The district is going to bid out the recycling of the cartons, to be started in the fall. Fairchild said Tompkins County is going to add the cartons to its list of what should be recycled.
Parkhurst said he has tried to encourage his parents to recycle everything.
Two other ambassadors, fifth-graders Lindsey Goodenough and Morgan Wandell, said they also try to show their families how to recycle at home.
“I like teaching other kids what we do,” Goodenough said.
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