HOW WE STARTED--PILOT PROJECT PARTNERS
Keep Bartow Beautiful, a local certified (Nov. 2000) affiliate of Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation and Keep America Beautiful, Inc., serves Bartow County (pop. 100,421) with environmental education and volunteer community programs focused on waste reduction/recycling, litter prevention, and beautification. A committee was formed to establish the program, selected from representative populations from across the county. That committee established school recycling as a key goal. The executive director, Sheri Henshaw, was hired in August 2000 with that goal in mind, as her experience working with students, teachers and schools for over a decade proved valuable.
Bartow Solid Waste Director Gene Thacker helped the KBB committee and Bartow County School System administration select four pilot project schools as recycling sites: Woodland High School, Mission Road Elementary, Taylorsville Elementary, and Kingston Elementary. Each school received, on loan from Solid Waste, and at no charge to each school, a covered recycling dumpster with sliding doors, placed on campus, and a list of materials to be recycled. The schools then worked with the committee to create the structure for voluntary recycling inside their buildings. Bartow County Solid Waste hauled the materials to their central collection point, Bartow Recycling Center, at no charge to the schools. All the programs were voluntary. No numbers were collected on amounts recycled at that time. (1999-2000)
Bartow County Solid Waste then applied for, and received, a GEFA grant for eleven covered recycling dumpsters. These were to be placed at the additional county schools, to expand on the current pilot project. Henshaw, in early 2001, began meeting with the schools about the program, getting their buy-in. KBB board member Robin Pennock, Assistant Superintendent of Bartow County School System, helped ensure that process went smoothly. Henshaw, being a long-time advocate of environmental education in the schools, insisted that while the program was voluntary, and subject to school decision-making processes, it would work best as an education program. This meant that securing the active involvement of at least one teacher and a group of students (who would be a point of contact as well as taking ownership of the program) would be a key factor in the success, or failure, of the effort.
EARLY SETBACKS AND SUCCESS STORIES
This proved true over the next several years, as some schools did little, seeing the program as an added burden. Problems ranged from: administrators declining to participate; no teacher willing to take on their school's program; recycling dumpsters--though clearly labeled--being mistaken for trash dumpsters by uninformed staff; the community using publicly accessible recycling dumpsters for their personal trash; and all matter of unrecyclable items placed in the bins, (light bulbs, plastic lawn furniture) with the well-meaning intention of "recycling" them.
Other programs were shining examples, however. Special Programs teacher Jayme Laney received grants for classroom recycling containers, and established a program of instructional work for his students, including field trips to the recycling center. Kingston Assistant Principal Sally Creel created a job application for fifth grade students, with three possible work sites: Hall 1, Hall 2, and Lunchroom Stage. The hall 1 and 2 students collected classroom containers in a wagon on a designated day and time, rolled them to the recycling dumpster, emptied and returned them, once a week. The lunchroom students would move to the stage area of the lunchroom after eating quickly, where discarded cardboard boxes were stored, to flatten the boxes and place them in the recycling dumpster. Students who failed to do their job were released, and new students hired from a waiting list. Science teacher Bob Powell, of Adairsville High, an early addition to the pilot, involved his Environmental Science classes in the collection process, and received a Weyerhauser Grant for his efforts. Groups from Student Council to Beta Club to Gateway took on the recycling programs in their schools, with a teacher or administrator there to guide them.
BUILDING ON SUCCESS STORIES
These pilot school success stories led to Henshaw providing, through Keep Bartow Beautiful, small desk side 15"X14"X10"; blue recycling containers for each classroom, labeled for mixed paper recycling, as the KBB budget would allow. Each year, more were added, one school at a time, gradually improving recycling rates without destroying the budget.
Still, the program was not a true success. Only the county schools participated, and some were lax in their efforts. Changing staffs at the schools, changing board members at KBB, and changing school administrators at Central Office complicated efforts even further. Henshaw stepped up her contact efforts during the start of each school year, visiting administrators, checking for teacher moves and program changes.
Henshaw created further innovations. Can and bottle bins placed in teacher lounges and near drink machines were added to the classroom paper bins. Rolling cans helped students move recycling materials quickly and easily to the outside recycling dumpster, reducing time out of class (a common argument against the program.)
With the help of Bartow Solid Waste Director Rip Conner and Recycling Coordinator Jerry Hames, free educational field trips to the landfill and recycling center were set up, (including bus parking and overlook construction), and even combined with trips to the nearby water treatment plant. Henshaw, Conner and Hames personally conducted the field trips, and made themselves available to visit schools and talk to students, staff, or parents.
Solid Waste even refashioned old open-top dumpsters into recycling units by welding tops onto them, and adding doors, as new schools were added, due to budget constraints. Progress was made, slowly but surely. Yet, results were still underwhelming.
TURNING THE CORNER--KEY PARTNERSHIPS
Then, in 2003, a door opened, just a crack. A-B Recycling, of St. Louis, was partnering with Anheuser-Busch Cartersville Brewery for the purposes of setting up recycling at Red Top Mountain State Park, just a short distance away from the county's recycling facilities. Keep Georgia Beautiful was asked to assist, and brought in Keep Bartow Beautiful and Bartow County Solid Waste. At this time, Bonnie Janson of A-B Recycling broached the possibility of Keep Bartow Beautiful including local schools in their Sea World Recycle Challenge. The national program was created to promote aluminum can recycling in communities across the U.S. with an Anheuser-Busch office or facility.
It took until 2004 before all the details were worked out to make that possible locally, as their contest had to be tailored to work for Bartow's existing programs. The support from a corporate entity was key, with posters, educational materials, and a free website available to all the schools participating. But the best part was the Grand Prize; a school-wide program presented, free of charge, for the recycling champion by Sea World. A-B Recycling would pick up the tab for all of this. The first totals, and the accompanying media coverage, were posted in the local news via KBB press releases. Suddenly, school recycling was front page news. Not only that, it was fun, and even kind of cool.
Participating schools ramped up their efforts, parents and teachers questioned administrators about expanding existing efforts, and even schools who had opted out suddenly found that their students and teachers were pressuring them to opt in, and commit to the program. As a result, the number of participating schools increased each year. Also, a tracking system was set up, as a necessary component of measuring totals, to award winners. Now there were numbers. The program had turned a corner. In 2004-2005, the schools recycled 25 tons through 8 schools. In 2005-06, they recycled 33 tons, with additional schools coming on board.
During the 2013-14 school year, we saw over $4500 in prizes distributed and 236 tons of materials recycled. The program actively engaged 18,479 students daily, in 26 schools, with hundreds logging in hours weekly in hands-on collections during the school day.
OUR CURRENT PROGRAM
Henshaw has some numbers that help sell the program. The estimated value to each school, on average, is $10,000 in supplies, infrastructure, educational materials and instruction, planning assistance, and hauling costs. "We calculate that is what it would cost if each school had to pay all costs themselves annually from scratch."
She added, "We have since also determined, through the work of local high school students, that each school could save up to the equivalent of two teacher salaries just through the elimination of one school trash dumpster, ($500 per pull, PER DUMPSTER, at the time of the study) based on local costs per single weekly pull.) That could easily be achieved through increased recycling, maximizing the use of currently available programs and supplies."
Plus, students and teachers learn through those field trips to the landfill and recycling center what and how Bartow County recycles, how a strong community recycling program can extend the life of expensive landfill space, built with their parent's tax dollars, and how the recycling program helps create recycling and manufacturing jobs in Georgia and neighboring states through sales of materials to nearby markets.
Over 100 industries, several of them in Bartow County, depend on recycled materials for their manufacturing processes. All the school's recycled materials collected go to the county recycling center for processing. Materials are then sold through a bidding process, with all fees going to Bartow County's General Fund, as required by law. The schools receive no direct funds from the sales. The county makes no sales to China, focusing on Georgia and neighboring states for sales, a point that is emphasized from both environmental and sustainable standpoints. The popular fieldtrips showcase actual products made from Bartow's student recycling, such as carpet.
RECYCLING CONTAINERS FOR SCHOOLS
Each school has access to the same recycling materials, as funds allow one 8’X20’ recycling dumpster; desk side containers for mixed paper, one per classroom; rolling trashcans, with or without recycling lids for cans and bottles; and tall “Slim Jim” containers for can and bottle recycling or mixed paper collection in heavy usage areas, such as art rooms, technology labs, media centers, and teacher work rooms. Educational vinyl labels contain clear and explicit instructions on what can be recycled. Henshaw meets with each school coordinator to determine what their school needs, as it varies from school to school.
The current Keep Bartow Beautiful School Recycling Contest rules are distributed at the beginning of each school year, announcing the kickoff of the program directly to the recycling coordinators and principals of each school. Standings are posted two to three times a year in the local daily news. The contest ends officially on March 31 of each year, although the program continues collections year-round. Winners are announced on or around Earth Day, April 22. Corporate sponsors assist with prizes at year’s end.
Tracking is done by the Bartow County Solid Waste Scale House staff; they keep up with the weights on each bin for each haul, the date they were hauled in, and the driver. The final results are totaled by Henshaw, double-checked for accuracy, and then divided by each school's October FTE count (school population.) The winners are based on pounds per student.
The haulers are scheduled as needed by each school recycling coordinator, when bins are 2/3 full, through a call to the scale house. Other questions, annual contest and program information, and requests for assistance are handled through Keep Bartow Beautiful. School recycling coordinators collect and inventory their in-house materials at the end of each school year, and redistribute them at the beginning of each new contest in August. Keep Bartow Beautiful and Bartow County Solid Waste own and maintain the containers and dumpsters, and replace them as needed, when funds are available. Student teams collect weekly. Principals decide who will oversee their program, who will participate, such as parents and community, and how it will expand. The program is still entirely voluntary, and now involves 26 schools, two school systems, one college and career academy, one central office facility, and one private school.
Henshaw sums it up. "Since the contest's inception, the schools can track 1130 tons (2,260,000 pounds) of mixed paper, cardboard, plastics #1 and #2, aluminum and tin cans, glass bottles, and even electronics and scrap metal recycling, diverted from the waste stream into new products. Teachers have taught students, students have taught parents, parents have taught relatives and neighbors. The School Recycling Contest kept our county's recycling program afloat during the economic downturn in 2007. Key partnerships, long-range planning, providing a consistent and recognizable infrastructure from location to location, and individual school ownership and flexibility within their walls, made it all work. The city of Cartersville, whose schools all participate now, has since added city-wide curbside recycling, (with collections going to the county recycling center), Bartow County is adding its 12th collection/recycling center next year in the unincorporated but heavily populated Allatoona Community, and local industries and small businesses widely and actively support recycling at their jobsites as just good business."
She adds, "In 2008, the first year they were presented, Bartow County Government-Solid Waste won the Georgia Recycling Coalition Green Spirit award for Best Government Program. That same year, GRC won the national award for best state program. In 2008, we were "the best of the best". That happened, when other programs were being shut down, not just in Georgia and across the U.S., but around the world. Our programs continue to expand, and provide average returns of $275-$300,000 annually to Bartow County's general fund. We can't say enough for the power of education to effect long-reaching environmental change. Bartow County is a vibrant example of that, thanks to our schools.”
- Sheri Henshaw, Executive Director, Keep Bartow Beautiful, (2009 National Keep America Beautiful Affiliate Award of Excellence)--KBB operates under the Bartow County Dept. of Community Development. Henshaw also oversees the county’s award-winning Sustainability Program, (2005 White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation-Bartow County Environmental Management System). County government and local partners in industry and education have mentored others upon request. email@example.com, 770-607-6312.
- Rip Conner, Director, Bartow County Solid Waste Dept. firstname.lastname@example.org , 770-387-5145, for questions about touring his facility or tips for working with local government or industry to build successful recycling programs and partnerships from the ground up. He led the Recycling Committee for the Bartow County EMS and worked to develop recycling goals through Chamber initiatives with the community, business, and industry. (2008 GRC Green Spirit Award, Best Government Recycling Program-Bartow County Government.)