RECYCLING: Going for Gold

The earth-friendly efforts of New York City school children are paying off in more ways than one, thanks to the New York City Department of Sanitation's (NYDOS) Golden Apple Awards.

As part of a contest that promotes waste reduction, reuse, recycling and community beautification lessons, Golden Apple Awards are given to elementary, intermediate and high schools that demonstrate innovative waste prevention practices, exemplary school recycling programs and extensive neighborhood cleanup through hands-on environmental projects.

Projects are divided into three categories: TrashMasters Reduce & Reuse Challenge; TrashMasters SuperRecyclers; and TrashMasters TeamUp to CleanUp. Each category can generate a citywide winner that receives $10,000, a borough winner that receives $5,000 and a borough runner-up that receives $2,500. Not all categories produced a winner in 2002. Winning schools typically use their rewards to improve educational programs.

The David Porter School, Little Neck, N.Y., for example, received several awards this year as the citywide and Queens borough winner for the Reduce & Reuse Challenge, and borough winner for SuperRecyclers. For its project, the elementary school entered Cozy Comfort Co., a profit-making business that uses shredded, recycled classroom paper to stuff hand-decorated pillowcases and Cozy Comfort Cushions. The school also has created a product line called Cozy Comfort Critters: doorway draft stoppers filled with recycled materials.

With its prize money, the school intends to beef up its science program and ensuing recycling efforts, as well as to purchase much-needed computer supplies.

“Things are really bad in New York City with the budget cuts following [September 11], so the money meant the world to us,” says Andrea Franke, a science teacher.

Bea Fuller Rodgers Elementary, Manhattan, N.Y., which received citywide and borough top prizes as SuperRecyclers and was borough runner-up in the Reduce & Reuse Challenge, developed a “Recycling Squad.” The squad of 11 students, armed with checklists and special hats, patrols the school and monitor various paper, plastic and metal recycling bins, noting anyone who is not recycling. Recycling Coordinator Evelyn Reyes says the squad issues monetary infractions to students and faculty members who violate the recycling rules.

“The kids go around, use their checklists and report back to me,” Reyes says. “They issue summons to people caught not recycling, and they get a dollar for every infraction.”

No decisions have yet been made on how to best use the Golden Apple Award prize money, but infraction money is used to fund more school environmental efforts. For example, the money helps to replenish the gloves supply that students use when checking recycling bins. Other activities, such as special Earth Day events, also receive a boost from infraction money.

To win a Golden Apple in this year's competition, students had to meet new minimum requirements that were inspired by New York City's New Standards in Education — state-adopted educational guidelines that call for applied and integrated learning in all fields.

This means students had to complete their projects, then document them in narrative form to explain their accomplishments, says Robert Lange, director of the Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling (BWPRR), a division of the NYDOS. This helped students to learn about the environment, as well as to practice writing and grammar skills. Entries then were reviewed by a judging committee and awarded a score.

In addition to the category winners, this year, a special TrashMasters Award was presented to the school that demonstrated the best use of the BWPRR-created “NYC Teachers' RRResource Kit: Are You Ready?” which includes lesson plans that address math, science, writing, reading and environmental science. The Manhattan New School was this year's recipient and received $1,000 for every teacher who incorporated lesson plans from the resource kit into their coursework. A sample lesson plan from the kit may teach students, for example, to make paper in science class, Lange says.

Although the Golden Apple Awards is only in its second year, NYDOS' TeamUp to CleanUp component is 20 years old. Moreover, Lange hopes the lessons in waste reduction, reuse, and recycling, and community beautification leave a lasting impression on future generations.

“If you get this message to kids very early on,” he says, “then they become enthusiastic participants, and possibly much better citizens.”