By Barbara Knitter,
Quest/AVID teacher at Thomas Russell Middle School
Eight years ago, Thomas Russell Middle School started a recycling program. It was a tough beginning because not many people were interested in recycling. Back then, when you looked in a recycling bin or garbage can, they looked identical - both had garbage and recyclables.
Our recycling bins were not well marked, so the following year we applied for a grant through Allied Waste (now Republic Services) to purchase bins for our school. We bought large blue bins with circles in the white lids. We spray painted “Bottles and Cans Only” on the lids and bins. We saw a small improvement in our recycling efforts, but it was still disgusting to clean out the bins. So we began the educational part of our program. My students in Quest and AVID researched why we should recycle and what happens if we don’t and here is what we discovered.
If we recycle plastic water bottles, they can be recycled back into bottles again which happens to most of the bottles we recycle on our campus. However, after the third or fourth life as a bottle, the plastic becomes too weak and needs to be shredded. It is then turned into polyester to make backpacks, jackets or other items. It can also be turned into plastic lumber to make benches, picnic tables or of other plastic tools. We found that the same oil used to make plastic bottles is also used to manufacture gasoline for our cars. We learned that aluminum comes from Bauxite and is number 13 on the Periodic Table. Once it goes through the process of becoming aluminum, it never loses its strength and can continuously be recycled back into another aluminum can (It only takes 60 days to do this). Or it can be recycled into parts used to make automobiles or even airplanes.
What shocked us the most was what happened if we don’t recycle! If we don’t recycle our bottles and cans, they end up in a landfill and it takes more than 400 years for them to decompose. They fill up the landfill and never break down naturally making our landfills larger and larger. Worse than that is the plastic contains toxins that can leak from the bottle, contributing to leachate, which can poison our soil and groundwater. Students were astonished about what they had learned and discovered ways to communicate their findings on posters, video clips and creating Recycling books. Posters were hung around school, and video clips were broadcast school wide on GMTR (Good Morning Thomas Russell).
With this new educational approach, the recycling bins looked cleaner with the correct items in them and students now show up every Thursday after school to help sort the bottles and cans for Community Service. About once a month, students travel to the Elite Recycling Services off Montague Expressway to help unload the bags of bottles and cans and cash them in. We began an Environmental Club last year that helps oversee the needs of the program.
The students have learned much more than living green and taking care of the environment. They’ve learned that every time they throw something away, they make a choice about our environment because there’s always a garbage can near a Recycling bin on our campus. They’ve learned they can make a difference and if we work together we can make a bigger difference. It is our hope that they will take everything they’ve learned home and teach it to their parents and family members. Beyond that, we hope they will embrace their leadership skills from this experience and continue to make a difference in their community and their future. Thank you to all our current and former Wolverines for taking on the responsibility of recycling and caring for our earth!