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Sandy Hook Students Pilot New Recycling Program



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Students at Sandy Hook Elementary School have been sorting their lunch waste into three bins for trash, recycling, and liquids in a new recycling pilot program that is expected to expand to other schools.

“For only being a week into it, I think it is going pretty well,” Director of Facilities Bob Gerbert, Jr, said on January 13. “It can be challenging for little kids to all of a sudden throw something different at them, but they pretty much rolled with it.”

Over the next month, students continued to practice placing their waste in the proper bins, and by February 4, Sandy Hook School head custodian Kevin Anzellotti said the students were doing well with the new program.

“Everything is going where it is supposed to go now,” Mr Anzellotti said.

Sandy Hook School Principal Dr Kathy Gombos said her students were all “doing great” with the new effort.

The new effort, Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue said on February 11, has been an important focus in the district, especially for the lesson students receive from the practice.

The new recycling program is expected to expand to more of Newtown’s schools this school year.

Looking back, Dr Rodrigue said she was particularly inspired last school year by a student presentation at Sandy Hook School that highlighted the importance of “going green.” That presentation focused on the use of Styrofoam trays and plastic straws. Dr Rodrigue shared that presentation with the Board of Education, and all of Newtown’s schools now use fiber cardboard trays and compostable straws, according to the superintendent. Now, that group of Sandy Hook School students know they made a difference, she added.

Dr Rodrigue said it is important to take “going green” seriously and to look at what schools can do for all of Newtown’s students.

“Students want to take care of the planet,” said Dr Rodrigue, adding that it is important to help students learn lifelong habits that they will hopefully then instill in others. “. . . Once students learn, it’s like learning anything else; they don’t forget it.”

When the new system was first unveiled for students, Mr Gerbert said district staff in the cafeteria worked with students to make the transition smooth.

“It takes a lot when you are working with the young, young children,” said Dr Rodrigue.

Mr Anzellotti observed that students were excited about the new program since its start.

“Instead of throwing away a half-empty milk carton, juice container, or whatever it is, the kids can dump that and most of that stuff can just be poured right down the drain,” said Mr Gerbert. “For us, we think that is going to be a big contributor, because that liquid, which can at times weigh a lot, isn’t going into the dumpster [to be disposed of].”

Mr Gerbert explained the cost of hauling trash is calculated by weight, “so we are hoping we can realize some cost savings.”

According to Mr Anzellotti, Sandy Hook School used to produce eight bags of trash from lunch, but now four of those bags are entirely recyclable.

Convenience Eases Compliance

At Sandy Hook School, four stations were set up with three bins each so students can dispose of their trash, recycling, and liquids in convenient locations around the cafetorium.

Each of the bins is labeled with what students can put in them.

The trash bins are labeled for snack bags, candy wrappers, plastic stirrers, straws, plastic utensils, sugar and condiment packets, hot and cold paper cups, Styrofoam, plastic bags, and “if in doubt, put it here.”

The recycling bin graphic explains it is for paper, plastic, metal, and glass: Everything should be empty, clean, and unbagged. It also offers examples.

The liquids bucket has a strainer placed over it so students can properly empty their containers before recycling them.

Mr Gerbert thanked Dr Rodrigue, Dr Gombos, and the Newtown Environmental Action Team (NEAT) for their support of the project. NEAT, he added, encouraged him to attend a conference at Central Connecticut State University in October, which gave him ideas on how to roll out the new recycling program.

“Coming here to Newtown, you can see that they are really on the forefront of sustainability and just being conscious of the environment with their efforts with solar and other energy efficiency projects that are going on,” Mr Gerbert said, also highlighting the efforts of Newtown’s Sustainable Energy Commission. “So I think this is just an extension of that.”

Dr Rodrigue thanked both Dr Gombos and Mr Gerbert for “really getting this off the ground and starting the pilot.”

Today’s students, she added, understand more than in previous years why “going green” is important.

“They want to make sure that their contributions help save the planet,” Dr Rodrigue said.

The superintendent said she wants students to learn the message, “We need to take care of the planet and we are the ones who can do it.”

Sandy Hook Elementary School student Mason Barbero stands near a trash bin, a recycling bin, and a liquids bucket in his school’s cafetorium during a lunch wave on February 4. —Bee Photo, Hallabeck
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