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Students honored for changing culture of school recycling

Nov. 14, 2013
By Chris Maza


EAST LONGMEADOW – One of the hardest things to do is change an established culture or way of doing things.

So when members of the East Longmeadow High School Environmental Club decided to take on the task of getting students to think about what they’re throwing away and what they should be recycling, they knew they were facing quite the challenge.

Now the club is being honored for their labors with Springfield Materials Recycling’s Outstanding Recycler of the Year Award.

The club beat out more than 100 local schools and businesses to claim the honor and received the award at a ceremony at the Log Cabin in Holyoke on Nov. 13.

“This is a passionate group of young teens who truly care about the environment who have not only made a difference around the school campus but also the larger community,” club advisor Mary Jane McMahon said. “The biggest thing about these kids is they have changed attitudes and behaviors of their peers, but also the staff.”

McMahon added that club members are attempting to instill environmental awareness in younger children by visiting other schools in the district.

She explained that the students who participate have embraced a message delivered by Richard Sullivan of the Department of Energy, who told them the best thing they could do was spread awareness.

“He said they’re not going to stop a big company, but the more they spread to each other, that’s the way things are going to change,” she said.

With nearly 50 members, the club is extremely dedicated, active and constantly growing, member Julia Holland said.

“We have formal meetings once every two weeks, but we’re always doing something,” she said. “Even since I got here as a freshmen the group has gotten a lot bigger. I think there were something like 20 kids and now we’ve got 45. People are really willing to help and share ideas.”

McMahon explained that the club first started ratcheting up their recycling efforts into high gear after taking a look at the amount of waste the school produced.

“A couple of years ago, we did a waste audit to see how much garbage we put in the trash could be recycled or composted and it was almost 95 percent,” she said.

In order to push for more recycling, the club placed designated bins in each classroom.

“We have a recycle bin for paper and a recycle bin for bottles and plastic and twice a week members from the environmental club go around and collect the bottles and paper to get recycled,” club member Ralph Albano explained.

McMahon said the initiative has resulted in the recycling of more than two tons of paper during a three-year span.

In addition to traditional recycling efforts, the club has also developed a composting program that has gotten off the ground. In years past, a compost bin was built, but nothing was done with it.

Holland explained that during lunch periods, a member of the group will stand by the bin and informs students what foods can be composted.

“It was introduced this year,” Albano said. “Basically, by doing that, we’re reducing the carbon footprint. When food decomposes in landfills, it creates a gas that is bad for the o-zone layer.”

A school supply collection and buy-back program has also been implemented by the club in an effort to prevent still usable items from being thrown away.

“At the end of the year kids often have a lot of binders and notebooks in their locker that they haven’t really used, so instead of having them just throw it away, we’ll take the unused binders and we’ll sell them back to them at the beginning of the next year at 25 cents apiece,” club member Arnab Sarker explained.

Other projects include improving and beautifying the high school campus with the help of the East Longmeadow Garden Club and clean up projects on the Red Stone Rail Trail and Heritage Park.

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