Spurred by the high school, MCES goes green
By Meg Ferrante
By having their recycling project featured on the front of the Morgan County Citizen Chalkboard section, the high school unknowingly threw out an eco-challenge. And the elementary school caught it.
Powered by fifth grade Student Support teacher Wayne Burnham’s considerable organizational skills, the administration, teachers, cafeteria staff and students have fueled the plan full speed ahead. And now they’re challenging the primary and middle schools to get on board, too.
“I read the article about recycling at the high school and I had been thinking about the same project for several months,” Burnham said. “It was just that little bit of extra motivation I needed to get going.”
Burnham said finding support was the simple part. He took the newspaper article to the administration and they told him to run with it. Several teachers immediately thanked him and said they’d been thinking about a similar idea for years but didn’t know how to get it started. “Every kid in every classroom has pitched in, too. They love to help.”
Having built several houses, Burnham said that it takes five phone calls to get one thing done, so he knew he had his work cut out for him. He called every official—local, city and state—in the waste management business that he could track down. The Board of Education was happy to provide rolling bins for the hallways and Morgan County Special Projects coordinator Monica Hayden gave him 58 blue bins for the classrooms. The city is currently out of industrial-sized recycling dumpsters, so he called the city of Athens and Clarke county officials. He visited Barrow Elementary, the pilot school for Clarke County’s program in Athens. He called several surrounding counties as well.
Finally Pratt Industries, a private company out of Conyers, called him back. They were happy to provide a cardboard and paper dumpster at no cost.
The kitchen staff, under the leadership of Melody Guinn, took to the project immediately. Which was great, Burnham said, because “the kitchen alone generates probably 50 to 60 percent of our waste.” He said the next step will be to recycle large plastic and metal cans from the food preparation. “If all the other schools recycled in their kitchens alone, that would be huge.”
He seemed to get downright dreamy thinking about all the other schools recycling together. “If you combine breakfast and lunch,” he said, “that’s probably 3,000 plastic bottles alone kept out of the landfill every day.”
Burnham said at the elementary school alone, students are collecting two large trash cans a day, much of it with around 600 plastic milk bottles and many water bottles from the classrooms and gym. He built a temporary shelter outside the cafeteria, which hold everything that doesn’t go into the cardboard and paper dumpster, and he trucks it to a recycling facility himself twice a week as he heads north toward home on 441.
“We’ve tried to make it fun for everyone with green raffles to attract attention to the project,” Burnham said. Teachers received Chick-fil-A coupons to give out when they catch kids recycling. Administrators and staff are getting chances at Starbucks coupons and the cafeteria staff has had raffles all their own as the school’s way of saying thank you for all the work everyone is putting in to generate success for recycling.
Hayden, the county Special Projects coordinator who has spent the last year working with Keep Morgan Beautiful to encourage less trash and more recycling throughout the county, said they’re thrilled the schools are beginning to incorporate recycling. “It’s great because the kids are the one who are going to make the biggest impact at the local level and at home. They are the ones to get excited about this and force their parents to become aware. And that’s the most effective tool we can use.”
Hayden also said that since April is Earth Month and green is the new buzzword, there is no better time to turn the recycling bug into a lifelong habit.
Burnham has been seeing green lately, too. “You can't listen to the news any more without hearing about energy problems,” he said. “When you recycle, you conserve energy because you don't have to produce from scratch. Plus you save the landfill. How many landfills do we want in Morgan County? The value of land is not going down.
“For me part of it is being a parent. I always believed in recycling, but getting down to it, I had to ask myself, ‘how much are you really doing?’ I read the high school article and decided to ante up.”
Some people have asked Burnham if he was getting a kick-back with all the recyclables the school is collecting. “Yes,” he said. “I have met some fine people, made some new friends and I know it’s the right thing to do, and that makes me feel good. I also like recycling because it gets people, and kids especially, involved and connected to their school and community. Everyone benefits from that in more ways than one. The kids and the environment are the focus. Not me.”