LINCOLN, Neb. — Anica Brown, a seventh-grade science teacher at Pound Middle School, heard about a plastic bag recycling program through her church and decided to bring it to her school.
Nearly 750 pounds of plastic bags later, the middle school is well on its way to winning a bench from Trex, a company that makes composite deck material out of recycled plastic and issued the challenge to schools.
The bench, of course, would be cool, but it’s more about what it symbolizes than its sitting potential.
“It teaches students how to be conscientious caretakers of the earth and that everything we do will reflect on them in the future and how important it is to take care of our planet,” Brown said.
The efforts at Pound are just a piece of Lincoln Public Schools’ efforts at sustainability, coordinated by Brittney Albin since she started in 2014, building on the district’s longtime recycling program.
The district’s efforts — paid for with grants and recycling revenue — have garnered several awards from the U.S. Department of Education, Keep Nebraska Beautiful and the Nebraska Recycling Council, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
One of the programs that have grown considerably is composting. Composting the waste from many of the 4.6 million lunches and 1.3 million breakfasts it serves, not counting waste from lunches brought from home.
By the start of the 2019 school year, Albin said, she expects to have all schools on board.
Albin’s goal is to divert about half the district’s waste, a goal she’s pretty sure the district will surpass this year. The district guidelines now require that construction workers divert 75 percent of the construction waste.
More recent efforts have focused on other ways to take care of the earth, whether through school gardens or litter pickup campaigns.
“We wanted to move beyond waste, because there’s room for many different areas of sustainability that can excite the students and staff,” she said.
She hopes, in the long run, to encourage young people to figure out how they can best be stewards of the planet — and create habits that will become second nature.
“We know if we can get students involved in this at an early age it will just be part of their lifestyle,” she said.
To that end, Albin has encouraged schools to choose a “green champion” — a staff member to take the lead on projects for the school. It’s a voluntary position, so Albin is looking for teachers with a passion for the subject. Think Pound’s science teacher and a shed full of plastic bags.
She’s also created a “green schools” recognition program that offers different ideas. Schools can earn points and a small amount of money to pay for a new project.
The district also has revamped its science program, moving a “garbology” unit to kindergarten. Now, Albin said, teachers can talk about composting and recycling and kids can see it happening in their building.
They also get to see composting in action with bins full of dirt and worms in their classroom. That helps them understand why they’re separating their food scraps at lunch.
Being able to reach young kids is one of the most exciting parts of her work, Albin said.
“That is something that is lasting. We get over 3,000 kindergartners every year,” she said. “We hope to start that spark early so by the time they’re older … they’ll be leaders of their green team.”
Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Lincoln Journal Star.