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Asheville-area schools build reduce, reuse, recycle into culture

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11/7/2011 - Asheville-area schools build reduce, reuse, recycle into culture
by Betty Lynne Leary - Asheville Citizen Times

Seventh-grade students paint recycling cans as a service project for Evergreen Community Charter School's recycling program.

Seventh-grade students paint recycling cans as a service project for Evergreen Community Charter School's recycling program. / Special to the Citizen-Times

Students from Haw Creek show one of their many art projects made from recyclable materials. 
Students from Haw Creek show one of their many art projects made from recyclable materials. / Special to WNC Parent
The Oakley Elementary Recycling Team in action. The Oakley Elementary Recycling Team in action. / Special to WNC Parent

 ASHEVILLE -- These days, it's not just homes and businesses that have an interest in recycling. Students in public, private, and charter schools put the three Rs -- reduce, reuse, recycle -- into practice every day.

 The Recycling Club at Oakley Elementary became so popular with the kids that third-grade teacher and club sponsor Chelsea Acton had to create more jobs for the group. 

 "Club members would pick up the paper and plastics to be recycled and bag it," Acton explained. "More kids wanted to get involved, so now we have class recyclers -- someone in each classroom to be responsible for collecting recyclables and bagging them." 

 Oakley was one of the first schools to be certified through the Buncombe County Green Schools Program. 

 In addition to collecting paper and plastics to be recycled, the students at Oakley recycle aluminum cans to raise money for the purchase of Smart Boards. The library also recycles all sorts of electronics like cell phones, batteries and laptops to raise money for new technology. 

 At North Buncombe High School, students in the occupational course of study recycle between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds of materials each month under the guidance of Michelle Roberts, occupational prep teacher. 

 "We create a job simulation that is run like a business," Roberts said. "It has to be self-sustaining, and the students learn essential job skills such as working on a team, giving directions to peers, and even how to stand for 90 minutes at a time."

Students gather and sort newspaper and colored and white paper, which is sold to Asheville Waste Paper. The group also collects aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Roberts said it's not unusual to find bags of donated recyclables on the doorstep when she comes to school.

"When the landfill started refusing plastic bottles, it all started coming to me," she said. "I love it. I could do recycling all time. All the kids in school recycle because it's just as easy to throw things into the recycling bins instead of the trash."

North Buncombe also has a program called Free Cycle where science teacher Mike Rowe gathers items that have been thrown away that are still usable. Notebooks, composition books, dividers, and other items are deposited in the school's Media Center. Students who need supplies may take them free of charge.

Roberts said she would lo ve to see mandatory recycling in Buncombe County as is the practice in Mitchell and Yancey counties.

"I think it would be great to have a gigantic recycling center here," she says. "After I retire from teaching, I would work there and hire these kids out of school. It would be awesome."

Part of the culture

The students at Owen Middle School see recycling as simply a way of life, said Teresa Cowan, sixth-grade science and math teacher. Not only does the school recycle paper, plastics, glass, and aluminum, but they work recycling into the curriculum as well.

"One of my favorite projects in sixth grade is when students use recycled products to create something to wear or a toy that can be played with repetitively," Cowan said. "Then we have a fashion show and toy expo which is great fun!"

Incoming sixth-graders are trained in recycling and quickly learn that it is part of the culture at OMS.

"Students often get so involved they share their feelings on recycling with their families," Cowan said. "I have even had students bring recycling from home to school." She adds that Owen was proud to be certified as a Green School to showcase what they have been doing for years.

To qualify as a Green School, schools document and submit results for at least 10 of 35 criteria provided by the Buncombe County Green School Program. Last June, 12 schools were honored with a certificate and a banner to hang proclaiming their status as a Green School.

"This very exciting and very successful initiative is just the beginning for Buncombe County Schools," said Kay McLeod, science specialist with BCS. "The program was just initiated last year, and these schools exceeded the expectations of the organizing team."

Evergreen Charter School in East Asheville was founded on the principles of environmental education and stewardship. According to Terry Deal, environmental education coordinator for Evergreen, the students practice four Rs.

"Reuse is the first option always," Deal said. "Then reduce, recycle and refuse."

Students learn to refuse to use things that have too much packaging and are wasteful. Recycling is only the beginning at Evergreen with waste-free lunches -- think reusable containers and real silverware -- cloth towels by the sinks instead of paper and composting in every classroom.

"It's part of our curriculum and part of our culture," Deal said. "The kids love it and they participate fully."

In addition to the typical paper, aluminum, plastic, and electronics recycling, Evergreen collects hard-to-recycle items such as pens, markers, scotch tape dispensers, glue sticks, and granola bar wrappers and sells them to TerraCycle, a company specializing in upcycling.

"They take these items and make new things out of them," she said. "It's a great way to help a school with fundraising."

Students take all of these lessons to heart, Deal added. "I've had students tell their parents not to buy a certain product because it has too much packaging. The more we model here at school, the more we're teaching our whole community, and that's good for everyone."

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