School makes recycling a habit

Third-grader Liam Nolan loads paper into boxes for recycling Thursday morning at A.C. Houghton Elementary.

While most schools recycle some supplies, A.C. Houghton Elementary has taken it to the next level.

Cardboard, metal, aluminum cans, white paper, colored paper and magazines can all be deposited in clearly marked spaces to be recycled. Drink containers and all plastic — from microwavable food containers to the left over edges after laminating — is also collected.

“Every room has a box, and there’s a box any place that we do anything with paper, especially white paper,” Principal John Sebastian said Thursday, pointing out separate boxes below the printer, copier and paper cutter in the teacher’s lounge. “When you’re developing the recycling habit, it has to be convenient.”

While the lunchroom has recycled cardboard and metal cans for years, the school began recycling white paper two years ago and then launched the newest phase of the program: The Recycling Team, a group of third graders who volunteer their morning recess period once a week to travel to classrooms and gather the white paper from each room’s boxes.

“Third-graders are old enough that even if they don’t understand the economic and the ecological benefit, they still see people recycling, and hopefully it makes them want to recycle,” Sebastian said.

The students push the carts down the hallways with enthusiasm, calling out dibs on who gets to pick up the boxes from which classrooms.

“This is so much fun,” said Jazlyn Romero, standing up tall to see over the top of the box as she maneuvered the black cart through a corner. “And we get to help out.”

Colleen Cunningham is one of the teachers who helped launch the recycling program. In the past she would take the school’s plastic to The Dalles to recycle it, but now all materials are taken to Umatilla or Hermiston for recycling.

“It just feels good to recycle,” she said. “I have such a hard time when I see people throwing things away that could be recycled. It gets to be a way of life.”

Because each teacher usually makes a couple extra copies of any worksheets or projects, the boxes can fill up in a week.

“Kids mess up, so the teachers will make a few extra copies. Over a year, it’s guaranteed to generate a couple thousand pounds of paper,” Sebastian said. “I have probably 50-60 lbs of recycled paper every week. It’s the equivalent of about one case of paper.”

He said the program has decreased the amount of trash the school produces, which is a positive lesson for the students.

“We used to have two or three pick-ups a week, and we used to have to store plastic bags of trash,” he said. “We had to store 15-20 garbage-can sized bags of trash, then when they emptied the dumpsters, we would almost fill it up again.”

Although the school does not profit on the recycling — bottles and cans generate about enough to cover putting enough gasoline in the pickup to drive to the recycling center and back — it does save money on labor, extra garbage storage and pick up. The school now has two dumpsters emptied twice a week, but Sebastian said he hopes to limit that eventually.

“There are weeks when one pick up or one dumpster would be just fine. If we could get down to using one dumpster, that would be a significant savings for us,” he said. “Why do we recycle? We do it because it just makes sense to try and reuse things as much as possible. Recycling is a way of life.”

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