March 4, 2010

Lesson: Recycling 101


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John Patriquin/Staff Photographer;Wed.,Sept.30, 2009. 2nd graders Kamal Abdirisaq, Dahliya Tucker and Livia Serrappa are among students at Clifford Elementary School and other Portland schools that recycle milk cartons after lunch.

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Clifford Elementary School students started recycling their paper milk cartons this fall as part of a parent-led effort to develop waste-reduction programs throughout the city's public schools.

In January, Lincoln Middle School will replace foam food trays, which don't biodegrade and aren't recycled locally, with paperboard trays that can be recycled or composted.

Both are pilot projects for recycling efforts that, if successful, will be models for reducing waste throughout Maine's largest school district.

''We're going to take what we learn through these pilot projects and see if we can apply it to other areas of the district,'' said Susan Webster, who, along with another parent, Martha Sheils, started the district's waste-reduction group last spring.

The group includes Ron Adams, food services manager; Doug Sherwood, facilities manager; Marnie Morrione, a School Committee member; Troy Moon, the city's solid waste manager, and Missi Labbe, business development manager for ecomaine, which runs the region's trash incinerator and recycling facility.

The group is focusing on food services first because cafeteria programs typically account for about 40 percent of the trash generated by schools. Early results are encouraging.

The Clifford school, which has about 300 students, is filling five 50-gallon recycling containers each week with paper milk cartons that no longer end up in the trash.

King and Lincoln middle schools, each with more than 450 students, started recycling their plastic milk bottles last year, which reduced their cafeteria waste by one-third.

Lincoln's food tray pilot program is an outgrowth of a two-year effort by Lyman Moore Middle School students who campaigned to ban polystyrene foam products in Portland and across Maine.

Portland uses foam food trays because its 18 serving sites have limited or no kitchen facilities, Adams said. Food is prepared in a central kitchen and delivered to each site in heated containers.

A return to reusable plastic trays isn't a real option in the current recession. Installing dishwashers, where possible, would cost $15,000 at each site, not including the cost of reusable trays, electricity and related personnel.

Foam trays cost about 3 cents each, compared with 10 cents each for paperboard trays, Adams said. The district spends $15,000 a year on foam trays. If the entire district switched to paperboard trays, it would cost $50,000 a year.

But the waste-reduction group believes that paperboard trays' higher cost will be offset by the money the district stands to save on waste disposal, because paperboard trays can be recycled.

The group decided to do the food tray pilot at Lincoln Middle School because it has an active environmental education program, including a student ''green team'' and an outdoor geodesic classroom, said David Hilton, a Lyman Moore teacher who's a member of the waste-reduction group.

Lincoln students will audit the school's waste over the next few months and help to develop a plan to incorporate food tray recycling into the environmental curriculum.

''We will be using it as a learning tool for our school,'' said Lincoln Principal Steve Nolan.

The waste-reduction group wants service learning to be part of the recycling efforts and would like to establish green teams at each school to monitor waste and energy consumption. ''It's a change of habit and a change of vision,'' Hilton said.

The group is surveying all principals and administrators to find out how much trash is generated across the district and what's already being done to reduce it, including conservation and recycling efforts.

The group is working on a business plan to make sure its efforts are revenue-neutral, but they could wind up saving the district money if enough waste is kept out of trash bins.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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