Schoharie technology teacher Dave DeLaney does not keep things bottled up.
No, this school recycling coordinator is all about getting the mounds of casually discarded plastic soda, water and juice bottles into the proper bins for recycling and for deposit returns, working with students and colleagues to stop waste and earn money.
This crew is just one of many in school districts throughout New York working to rev up recycling. The benefits are handsome: Schools not only save money, they often earn money, too, from selling discarded paper, juice boxes, plastic bottles, or food waste for composting. An even bigger benefit? Students are learning not to waste, how to recycle, and how to think "green" in everyday life. Many school recycling projects are tied in to class curriculum, projects or after-school clubs.
In Schoharie, for example, recycle bins and containers, some made from recycled computer boxes, are set out in halls, cafeteria, classrooms and even the gymnasium on game nights. Cans are sold to a junkyard. Returnable bottles are brought to a redemption center run by the Schoharie County ARC.
The Builders Club, a service organization that handles the recycling, earned more than $500 last year alone. "That's over 10,000 bottles for just the returnables," DeLaney said.
The club is run by Delaney and teacher Vanessa Baker, both members of the Schoharie Central School Teachers Association, led by Martin Messner. The union is participating in NYSUT's Local Action Program, which trains locals in community outreach and coalition-building.
The recycling movement was originated by teacher Debbie Castle in the elementary school, Delaney said, then picked up by Judy Petrosillo, former science teacher, in the middle and high school wing.
Money earned from water bottles ($300 last year) is refunded to the cafeteria since deposit costs are not passed on to students.
DeLaney also partners with the Builders Club for a new style of paper route. Every other week, students and leaders pick up paper products from the district schools. Custodians add cardboard products. The paper, amassed in outdoor bins, is collected by GreenFiber, which pays for it and then recycles it into non-toxic cellulose fiber insulation.
"Last year we collected over 12 tons of recycled paper," DeLaney said. "Before that all the paper was going to the landfill."
DeLaney teaches his students to rethink the way they use and dispose of stuff. For example, students can turn in papers on "second-hand" paper with the previously used side Xed out.
Another school traveling the recycle road is Spencer Van Etten, which borders Tompkins, Tioga and Broome counties. Here, special ed teacher Brenda Anderson had her students conduct a waste audit from a week's worth of cafeteria trash, which they weighed and measured using a scale from the school nurse's office.
They logged information in a spreadsheet for an eighth-grade math class. Students conducted a separate audit to determine how much paper waste was compostable.
"We learned recycling was messy and people weren't putting things where they belonged," said Anderson.
Her students toured recycling plants and visited schools already recycling and composting. Last year, her school went to full composting and recycling.
Custodial staff hauls food waste to a nearby farm for composting, avoiding commercial haulers and landfill charges.
"Ninety percent of what was thrown away was compostable," Anderson said. Trash has now been reduced to 10 percent of the 100 pounds once generated daily.
Students in the Greenhouse Program, an elective class, send out recyclables such as chip bags and juice boxes to TerraCycle, from which they have earned $250 in three years.