Going the Extra Mile To Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

When middle school teacher Ruth Schrichte wanted grow lights for plants in her classroom, she contacted Extra's for Education, a Colorado-based program that matches the needs of schools with equipment that has been dumped or seized. In addition to receiving grow lights, Schrichte also was given enough free equipment to supply a whole greenhouse - $30,000 worth of materials.

Western Disposal, a major sponsor of the Extra's program, donates one driver and a truck to help the Extra's program. According to Deborah Dabkowski, administrative director of Western Disposal, the company had been searching for a philanthropic endeavor for nearly five years. The Extra's program couldn't afford to hire a truck and driver, or pay for insurance and licenses, the nonprofit's Executive Director Catherine Bedell notes. And by donating a driver and truck, Western Disposal saves the program money while helping schools, nonprofit organizations and the environment.

"When the Extra's [program was explained] to us, we realized it was a perfect fit," Dabkowski says. "We are in the hauling business; we transport waste products. Plus, it was easy to incorporate into our workweek. [Also,] the community recognition we have received has been invaluable."

Extra's is a project of Colorado's Adopt-A-School Program, which began three years ago. The program works by coordinating schools' needs with business' charitable goals. Bedell tracks teachers' requests for items such as copier paper, chalkboards and basic supplies, and as these tax-deductible items are donated, they are matched to the requestor. Western Disposal and Bedell pick up and deliver the items each Wednesday.

According to Bedell, Boulder County has seen extensive business growth. With constant business turnover and remodeling, equipment is readily available. Prior to the Extra's program, companies dumped unused equipment and supplies, she says.

"Before Extra's, we took truckloads [of used equipment and supplies] to the landfill. Schools could have reused most of it. Now, we specifically save items in a warehouse for delivery to schools," says a spokesperson for the National Center for Atmospheric Research headquartered in Boulder, Colo.

Currently, Boulder county is striving for a 50 percent waste reduction by 2005, says Stacy Swank, the recycling education coordinator at Boulder County Recycling and Composting Authority. "The Extra's program diverts reusable materials and delivers them directly to requesting schools."

"The Adopt-A-School Program and Extra's has given rewards to every party involved," Bedell says. "The teachers and students receive items that ordinarily might not be funded. Often, you'll find teachers taking money from their personal budgets to fill a classroom need."

Since the program's inceptions in 1997, two school districts in Colorado, teachers and students have received nearly $1 million worth of reusable equipment and classroom supplies. During the 1999 to 2000 school year, 153 donors gave $276,432 worth of valuable resources to 100 schools and nonprofit organizations. Additionally, the program has received multiple awards. Most recently, it received the Boulder County Business Report's IQ Award for "Most Innovative Products and Services."

For more information about Extra's program contact Catherine Bedell at (303) 823-9460 or visit its website at www.adoptaschoolprogram.com.