How These School Leaders Created a Schoolwide Recycling Program
Pro tip: Recycling team buy-in comes from hard work, persistence, and a whole lot of fun.
Michelle Pender, a first-grade teacher at Hanceville Elementary in Alabama, knows a thing or two about creating a schoolwide recycling program. She’s previously been named an Environmental Conservation Education Teacher of the Year and has helped the school win Clean Campus awards from the state. Michelle believes it’s all about starting small—but dreaming big. Hanceville started with a simple barrel to collect plastic bottles. Now, they collect everything from plastic and paper bags to crayons, markers, and toothbrushes.
Michelle said it’s all about a commitment to getting the word out passionately and consistently. “Different members of our Clean Campus Crew record video messages highlighting a ‘Recycling Item of the Week,'” she says. “We share tips and updates on our recycling totals and encourage the local community to bring their recycling to school.”
Hanceville Elementary’s everyday curriculum has been incorporating recycling know-how, too. They’ve built an outdoor classroom and worked with local conservation groups, participated in anti-littering campaigns, hosted clean-up days, and led beautification projects. Quite the journey from a simple barrel for plastic bottles!
Look for the helpers for your schoolwide recycling program
“I’ve learned to look for resources and helpers everywhere you can,” Michelle says. “It’s easy to say, ‘We can’t do this because there’s no city recycling,’ or to be discouraged when no one shows up to your first clean-up day. We discovered ways of integrating recycling in lots of small ways, which all add up to something great.”
Lastly, Michelle says that creativity plays a huge role in getting the school community active. Together, they built a recycling container with an attached birdhouse made of upcycled materials. The students love feeding “Bernie the Bottle Bird” with their plastic bottles to be recycled!
“I’ve learned that most people want to help and be better stewards of our environment,” Michelle says. “All they’re looking for is a program that welcomes all levels of participation and has some concrete, actionable tasks that they can do every day to help out.”