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St. Paul, Minn. -- How much waste is generated by Minnesota schools? How much typically gets recycled? How much could get recycled? Schools trying to be as environmentally friendly as possible look for answers and now they have them.
A new report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, “Digging Deep Through School Trash: A waste composition analysis of trash, recycling and organic material discarded at public schools in Minnesota,” addresses these questions and many more. It details findings from a comprehensive school waste composition study conducted by the MPCA, Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis. Some key findings of the school waste study:
-- More than 78 percent of all the waste generated by schools could be managed through a combination of recycling and composting
-- Food waste and recyclable paper are two of the most prominent materials thrown away by schools.
The report can be reviewed at www.pca.state.mn.us/schoolwastestudy.
For the study, researchers collected, sorted and analyzed all the waste generated by the six participating schools during a two-day period, including everything that was in trash cans, recycling bins or collected for organics recycling.
The participating schools were Burroughs Elementary, Northeast Middle and Washburn Senior High in Minneapolis and Hopkins West Junior High, Minnetonka Senior High and Clear Springs Elementary in Minnetonka. In many respects, these schools exhibit characteristics similar to schools across Minnesota. They are among the more than 100 schools in Hennepin County that have implemented an organics recycling program to divert food waste, paper towels and other organic materials for composting — a type of recycling program that is still relatively rare but gaining steam in Minnesota.
Some easy, low-cost options schools can take to boost recycling include educating students and staff, having properly placed and labeled recycling containers, and forming a “green team” to track and improve performance.
Schools elsewhere in Minnesota that follow these tips are getting great results from their recycling programs.
In the Duluth school district, the Lakewood school placed clearly labeled bins in classrooms and common areas. To kickoff the new recycling program and to promote usage of the bins, the school held a pep assembly that highlighted the importance of recycling and the materials accepted in the bins. The school also conducted short, 15-minute classroom activities that focused on reduce, reuse and recycle education.
These strategies paid off: from January to June, the school increased its recycling by 312 percent when compared to the 2009 school year. Grant/Nettleton and Homecroft schools followed the same procedures and strategies as Lakewood school. They have seen an average 81 percent increase rate in the collection of recyclables.
The Proctor school district successfully rolled out a food waste collection program used by grades 6 through 12. The “Green Bandits” headed up a pep assembly promoting the program, put posters up throughout the school, and talked to their peers about proper separation. In the nine week pilot test, the program diverted three cubic yards of food waste from the trash. The school expects more than 13 cubic yards of wet, heavy food waste will be kept from the landfill and turned into useful compost for gardens and lawns in the 2010-2011 school year.
Schools or districts interested in maximizing recycling can contact their county recycling coordinators for assistance and use any of these additional resources to help them get started.
Resources for improving school recycling:
-- County recycling and environmental staff: www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/topics/preventing-waste-and-pollution/recycling/county-environmental-contacts-data.html
-- EPA’s tools to reduce waste in schools: www.epa.gov/epawaste/education/toolkit.htm
-- Healthy and Sustainable Schools Guide: www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/download-document.html?gid=2368
-- Curriculum resources for teachers: www.seek.state.mn.us