Their parents might not think twice about tossing newspapers and plastic bottles in the garbage along with all their other daily discards. But most Midlands schoolchildren are learning that all waste doesn’t have to be destined for a landfill.
Many local classrooms are teaching students that recycling is about more than just having an extra bin next to the trash can.
“It teaches them to rethink their garbage,” said Jane Hiller, an education specialist at Sonoco Recycling who coordinates and promotes recycling for a number of local school districts. “Our goal is to make less waste and to take better care of the planet, so we ask kids, before they throw something away, to walk themselves backwards and think, ‘What else can I do with this?’”
Sonoco is hosting the RETHINK contest this Saturday, in which about 30 students from local schools will show off their creative reuse of normally discarded items. The competition is an example of ways schools and students are taking recycling a step further and using their creativity to encourage families and communities to go green.
Here’s how some students are thinking outside the bin when it comes to recycling and reusing.
You wouldn’t believe how many plastic Gatorade bottles the students at Columbia’s Hammond School throw out on a regular basis. They didn’t realize it themselves until the Go Green club began collecting the bottles more than a year ago to build a greenhouse.
That’s right – they built a greenhouse. Out of Gatorade bottles.
“This is a great example of recycling with active reuses,” said Isabelle Mikell, a senior and member of the Go Green club.
It took more than 1,500 bottles – about 24 gallons worth of Gatorade – to build the greenhouse last spring, where the club will soon begin planting herbs, tomatoes, kale and other edible plants they hope one day can be used in the cafeteria.
The hardest part of the project was washing out all those bottles, students said. But it was worth it, they said, to spread awareness to the whole school about being conscious of their waste products.
“The magnitude of the bottles was really astounding to all the students,” said senior Katharyn Taylor, Hammond’s student body president. “Seeing them all laid out and stacked up, it really adds up. And I think all the students really noticed, wow, we do use a lot of plastic, and it is possible to recycle all that.”
Saving green by going green
At a time when many school arts programs often face the funding ax, art teacher Bob Bramhall has found a way to save some money on supplies at St. Joseph School in Columbia.
That’s easy to do when most of your art projects are made out of materials that would normally be discarded, and even easier when students and parents are dropping them off at your doorstep.
Puzzle pieces, plastic spoons and forks, wine corks and bottle caps, toilet paper tubes, pencil shavings, records, CDs and cassette tapes. Boxes and shelves full of these supplies line the walls of the art room. Students use them to create unique and inexpensive art projects.
“It gets them alert when they’re little, where now they’re telling their parents, ‘We can do something else with this,’” Bramhall said. “Have them think differently about things rather than just thinking of it as trash.”
St. Joseph’s thrifty art philosophy is one of several recycling-conscious programs that have helped earn the school earn statewide recognition multiple years for its reuse efforts.
Trashy outfits (Does your father know you’re wearing that?)
An old umbrella can be a skirt, and plastic spoons make a great dress bodice.
Making trashy outfits last year is one of the ways students learn to rethink their garbage in art teacher Blakely Sheely’s classes at Dutch Fork High School in Irmo.
“They’re just little hoarders,” Sheely joked. “I tell them to look for junk and then we’re going to repurpose it and give it new life.
“I think the surfaces are more interesting. I think it forces the kids to think about materials in a different kind of way.”
Recently, her students created cameras from old cardboard. Students also have saved up items such as old credit cards, discarded books and plastic utensils for projects.
Because it’s cool
What makes reading more fun than doing it, say, inside a blanket fort? How about an igloo?
Students at Doby’s Mill Elementary School in Lugoff are beginning to collect gallon-sized milk and water jugs that will be used to construct an igloo in their library.
Resurrecting the popular project from about seven years ago, librarian Betsy Long is overseeing the upcycled igloo, which she expects to begin constructing this winter for students to use as a reading nook.
The reading igloo won’t be the school’s first upcycling project this year. Students and their families built cardboard cars for a “drive-in” movie night in early October, and students frequently use reuse discarded items for projects in their science lab, Long said.
“If it’s just what’s expected of you to do (at school), then hopefully it will trickle over to the homes, too,” Long said.
Teach a student how to recycle, and he’ll teach all his friends. At least, that’s the theory at Batesburg-Leesville Elementary School.
A group of students called Environmental Engineers takes charge of the school’s recycling efforts.
Club sponsors Myra Davenport and Julie Ruff train the students to know what’s recyclable and what’s not, and how to stack disposable lunch trays in trash bags to conserve landfill space. In turn, those students then lead their classmates in schoolwide recycling and waste reduction efforts.
“It’s coming from student-to-student instead of teacher-to-student,” Ruff said. “The whole goal is it being student-to-home and kind of filtering through other areas in our community.
“We feel like if we can start now, it’ll become a habit as they get older, and it’ll become second nature.”