Since 1987, Eco-Cycle has coordinated the Boulder/Broomfield County School Recycling and Environmental Education Program, currently funded by Boulder County, Boulder Valley School District, Broomfield County, City of Boulder, Town of Superior, Eco-Cycle and various grant sources. The program provides for collection of recyclables from all 55,000 students and staff in 82 Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley public schools (two districts). It also provides monthly feedback to individual schools on program progress. Over 1,600 educational presentations are given to over 48,000 preschool through 12th grade students in Boulder and Broomfield County schools annually.
This unique environmental education effort has received the 2007 Environmental Achievement Award from the EPA Region 8, the 2008 Best New Program Award from the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education and the 2011 Outstanding Outreach Award from the Colorado Association for Recycling. Cyndra Dietz, program coordinator, also received the Camera’s 2012 Pacesetter Award in the education category and the 2012 Enos Mills Lifetime Achievement Award in environmental education from the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education (the highest award of its kind for Colorado).
It is the interworking of three facets (collection, education and feedback) that makes this program both unique and effective. The actual collection of recyclables allows students to put the knowledge and concern they have gained from the education component into positive action. The education component provides the information and motivation needed for students to follow through on recycling, waste reduction and conservation activities. Regular feedback to the schools keeps recycling in the forefront and makes it an integral part of daily school life. All three aspects are key to the program’s overwhelming success, making it a national model for others wanting to start similar projects.
Over 550 tons of office/classroom paper, cardboard, magazines, newspaper, aluminum, steel, plastic and glass are recycled from the schools annually. This compares to 14.7 tons recycled in 1988 – a 3,400% increase! As the collections have expanded, many schools have been able to cut their trash service by one third, providing substantial savings to both districts.
Individual schools have a recycling contact who receives monthly feedback on both the quantity and quality of materials recycled. The number of trees “saved” by their paper recycling is posted on their tree banner, an impressive 2 x 3 foot “trees saved” thermometer. In addition, a few schools each year receive special recognition and prizes for doing an exceptional job with the program. The school recycling contacts are rewarded with luncheons and seminars on environmental issues to show appreciation for their work.
Using age-specific group discussions, activities, slide shows, crafts and games, our educational presentations and field trips help students understand the relationship between solid waste issues and many other environmental problems such as pollution, resource depletion and deforestation. The presentations are very popular, with the number given increasing from 180 in 1989 to approximately 1,600 annually. Many presentations educate students about source reduction and buying recycled products as well as recycling. Other topics include Zero Waste, holiday and lunch-time waste reduction, litter prevention, composting, household hazardous waste, forest ecology, rainforest issues, air quality, indoor air pollution and energy conservation.
To keep teachers excited about including us in their curriculum, we develop innovative, special projects each year. Some examples include: the Kids Conference for the Earth, an all day event that brought 170 children and parents together to participate in environmental workshops; the Rainforest and Recycling Fundraiser, where 6,000 students in 12 schools learned about the benefits of recycling to the rainforest and saved aluminum cans to raise money to adopt acres of rainforest; America’s Forest, Our Own Backyard, in which over 500 students in 18 classes learned about forestry and waste reduction before planting trees; the Green Star Kids project, which motivated students at 51 schools to buy recycled products at back-to-school time; the Waste Wise Conference, held at CU to educate secondary students on a variety of environmental issues; the Waste-Free Lunch Contest, in which six schools compete to make the least lunch-time trash; the Locker Leftovers project, in which students reduce waste at the end of the school year by recycling and donating to charity; and the Business Heroes Go For Zero tours of Zero Waste businesses for high school business classes.
For over two decades, we have been reaching out beyond the borders of Boulder County to help others establish school recycling in their communities. Over 300 teachers have been trained in our curriculum. During 1991-1993 we received EPA funding to develop and conduct all-day teacher trainings on solid waste issues, presented in collaboration with the University of Colorado. These were held at 11 different sites in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. In 1995 we created “Waste Not, Want Not,” the first four-day teacher training institute on solid waste. EPA funds provided travel stipends for teachers from around the state to participate. In addition, we have worked with the City of Denver and the Eastern Colorado Rural Development Council to train teachers in those communities.
In 1993, we developed “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: A Waste Reduction Activity Kit.” This 18-gallon trunk full of games, slide shows and experiments has all the visual aids necessary for an educator to teach a one week unit on solid waste. In 1994, we were honored to receive a grant from the Colorado Governor’s Office of Energy Conservation to place these kits in every school district in the state. There are currently over 1,100 kits being used by organizations and individuals in at least 34 states and five Canadian provinces.
Through phone consultation and conference presentations, we continue to help others around the United States and Canada start or improve their own recycling, composting and waste reduction projects. As the concept of Zero Waste has gained momentum, Eco-Cycle has taken the lead in creating model Zero Waste programs for schools.
In the spring of 2005, we launched the Green Star Schools project. As participants in this project, Boulder County and Broomfield County schools are the first in the nation to move towards Zero Waste by addressing every aspect of each school’s waste stream. Large scale composting of food waste and non-recyclable paper from the kitchen, cafeteria, classrooms, offices and bathrooms (paper towels) has cut participating schools’ trash by one third. Another third is diverted by the recycling program. A Waste-Free Lunch campaign and other waste reduction projects focus on the remaining third that is not recyclable or compostable. Extensive, ongoing education for staff and students is integral to the project. Currently, 43 schools are participating and more are added each year.