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Sunrise Elementary, Florida

At our school we discussed as a class was how to reduce the amount of trash that we generate in school and launched our own recycling initiative, Earth Defenders.

The average American throws away more than 3.5 pounds of trash each day, and more than 80% of that ends up in the landfill. We looked in different trash cans at school to examine what type of trash was being thrown out. We were amazed at how much of the trash being thrown out could be recycled. The largest amount of trash was the breakfast and lunch Styrofoam trays from the cafeteria. The trays were being thrown loose into the trash cans. They were not even stacked into each other to save on space.

Schools are charged for each trash pickup and we learned that if we could keep the trays out of the trash this would save money for our school and school district. We have approximately 250 trays a day. Multiply that by 180 school days and we end up saving 45, 750 trays a year and that is from our small school. Imagine how much larger schools can keep out of the landfill!

We live within a couple of miles from the local landfill and we can see the massive hill of trash and smell the trash when we drive down the main road next to the landfill. If the same amount of trash continues to go into the landfill, it will be filled in a few years. We already have a paper and cardboard recycling program in place, but we decided that the school population needed to be reminded what could be recycled. We made posters and did advertisement on the school news.

The next step was to research if the Styrofoam trays, known as polystyrene, could be recycled. We researched this issue to find what other schools in the country have done about this problem. We found out that the local zoo had formed a partnership with Blue Earth Solutions to pick up Styrofoam from the zoo. At the time, Blue Earth could not pick up our trays and the facility was too far to drop them off. Tanya, from the zoo, visited our school and through discussions, she agreed to come and pick up the trays for us so that Blue Earth Solutions could pick them up from the zoo. We are now working out a partnership with Blue Earth Solutions to pick up our trays and currently have 4 schools on board. They did the first pick up on Earth Day.

We will continue to recruit other schools through presentations by the students. We made a video and power point and we have given presentations to all of the students in our school and 12 other local schools on how to recycle the lunchroom trays. Through trial and error we experimented on how to clean, collect and store the trays. Lowe’s donated four large trash bins to store the trays in.

Next, we experimented with different ways to clean the trays by washing them off with a water hose and then we tried dumping them into bins of water. We realized that if the trays were stored before being completely dried, they would become moldy. We went back to researching and found that the trays did not need to be completely clean. If the trays were wiped out and then stored, it would not affect the recycling process.

Next, our class brainstormed on how to teach all of the students to clean and stack the trays properly in the bins. We knew we had to get the lunchroom custodian on board so the students talked to him and explained the project. He was very excited to help with the recycling efforts. After that, we went into the cafeteria and classrooms to talk to the students in the school about the project and how to clean the trays. We worked in groups to make posters with the directions and to prepare a script on how to clean the trays. We produced a video and the classroom teachers played the video for their students. We used the videos and power point to present to other schools in our district.

We also invited Mr. McCaleb, who is the Orange County school recycling coordinator to come in and talk to us about recycling in our school district. He told us about a grant that he is working on to recycle the trays. He wants to purchase thermal compactors, but they cost about $7,000 each. There is one in an elementary school at this time. If the grant comes through, the thermal compactors will only go into the city schools and not the county schools. The reason for this is because it costs 10 times more for trash pickup in the city limits. We want to expand our recycling tray project into all county schools and it doesn’t cost anything at all. In fact, we will be saving money for the school district. We are the future and know that it is important to keep Polystyrene out of the land fill.

From our research and guest speakers, we knew we had to solve the problem and keep the Styrofoam from filling up our landfill. We are saving an average of 250 trays a day from going into the landfill. Each day after lunch, we store the trays in the trash cans for pick up to be recycled.

We interviewed a few students in our class about the project and here are their comments: Lauren: “This project has changed my point of view because before I didn’t know that landfills were such a big issue and that EPS foam covers Now I know that Styrofoam can be recycled and used for bigger and better things.”

Sarah: “Now, I look at things like Styrofoam and know it can be recycled. I never knew. I’m recycling more and being less careless.”

Amahn: “I never recycled before until I learned how important it is. It doesn’t matter if it is cardboard or foam, you can recycle anywhere, anytime, and it is fun!!”