By Dawn M. Chiossi
Doing their part to make sure that the environment will be a clean, safe place for generations to come, students and staff at Budd Lake’s Sandshore Elementry School are demonstrating that green is the color they like best. Since October, they have been proactively collecting recycling– preventing approximately 600 pounds of plastic from entering area landfills and possibly even the ocean.
Those pesky plastic bags seem to be everywhere; but while they may be convenient, they do much more than generate clutter. Once the plastic is used and thrown away, it can take up to a staggering 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. In the process of breaking down, plastic gives off toxic chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Even worse, when plastic is discarded into the ocean, it can cause sea birds, seals, dolphins, and sea turtles to get all tangled up–making them vulnerable to predators, suffocate, cause intestinal problems, and eventually die.
So what to do with the bags? Donate them! Anywhere and everywhere there is plastic, Sandshore Elementary School is collecting it– grocery store bags, trash bags, bread bags, newspaper coverings, coverings for dry cleaning and laundry, sandwich and storage bags, bubble wrap, packing wrap, plastic overwrap, ice bags, cereal bags, and more.
Along with the hundreds of schools across the nation, students at Sandshore Elementary will be excitedly competing in the 13th Annual Trex Recycling Challenge to see who can collect the most plastic bags.
According to School Counselor, Elena Melekos, this is the first year the school is competing in the Trex Recycling Challenge. Promoting both fun and responsibility, the contest takes place between the dates of November 15 (on America Recycles Day) and April 15th.
Encouraging students in kindergarten all the way up to those in 12th grade to see who can collect the most plastic bags, Trex’s recycling challenge groups together schools of the same size and same area. Students then work together to make the environment plastic-free.
Melekos shares that the idea of recycling came about as a result of two events last year: both from word of mouth. The first was when she created a Kindness Ambassador Team. She shares that in order to become members of this team, students must apply and come up with ideas on how they would like to spread kindness and help the community. “A few of the students mentioned recycling in their applications,” she says. Then when a colleague at Mt. View Elementary had mentioned their efforts in recycling with the Trex Recycling Project, the concept took root. “I shared the idea with all of the 85 members and they were very excited to have the opportunity to recycle and start this project,” she enthuses.
Each day students, staff, and community members drop off countless plastic bags in one of the boxes in Sandshore’s main lobby. The Kindness Ambassadors, Melekos, and Sandshore’s Mrs. Thompson and Mr. Falkman all collect the plastic, weigh the bags, and then drop them off at Target. The store then sends the bags on to Trex to be properly recycled.
Collection totals will be reported monthly to Trex, and the winners of the competition will be announced on Earth Day, April 22nd. Winning schools will be awarded a Buddy Bench from the organization.
With the hopes of collecting an impressive one ton of plastic, Sandshore is well on their way. In October they collected 430.6 pounds of plastic and 496.8 pounds in November.
But the recycling effort is much more than just a chance to win a contest or a prize. For Sandshore Elementary School, it’s a way of life. For them, it’s about becoming actively involved in the recycling effort.
Melekos remarks that the students are so involved with the effort, that they are setting up additional recycling containers around the school as well as the ones from Trex. They also ask their classmates around the lunchroom to recycle any materials they can during lunch.
Their enthusiasm is so infectious, it extends to the staff and the community as well. “Everyone has been extremely supportive of this recycling project. The teachers have been absolutely wonderful,” Melekos enthuses. “ Mrs. Thompson and Mr. Falkman, our physical education teachers, have been so kind and help store and collect plastic bags each day from our collection locations. Mr. Heckman, our Art teacher, has created a bulletin board display to help us keep track of our collections. Our school security officer, Officer Stan, has helped with delivering our collections to Target. Our school nurse and Mrs. Herbst has helped us with weighing the bags each week.” Melekos even asserts that in addition to everyone else in the community, Council Woman Colleen Labow had noticed a flyer for Sandshore’s collection and had set up a collection in the town building. “Just like everything else at Sandshore, this really is a team effort,” she prides.
“The students are so excited to see how much plastic is being collected and how much is used each day. They are really focused on making a difference in their community,” Melekos enthuses. “I know that this is a project that our leaders will want to continue for next year.” She goes on to say how inspired she is by the program and how the students are embracing green-friendly mindsets; how the program is teaching them to love and respect the planet.
“I am extremely proud of how passionate the students are,” Melekos prides. “Each morning the students come jumping out of their cars and busses with excitement carrying in full bags of plastic! They see that together we can make a difference by sharing why recycling is important and by encouraging others to do the same.”