MARKETING: NYC School Recycling More Than Child's Play

New York's Department of Solid Waste's Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling (BWPRR) is taking recycling to school, literally.

By law, New York City public schools are required to recycle. But the city's Board of Education (BOE) wanted to accomplish more than forcing children to sort items at school. Looking for a plan that would educate kids about the reasons behind recycling, the BOE turned to BWPRR for help.

To create a successful recycling program, BWPRR believed teachers needed to integrate recycling and waste prevention lessons into their routine. For more than two years, the BWPRR staff worked with the BOE's Office of Instructional Publications to develop a tool that elementary school teachers could use to combine recycling concepts with critical thinking skills. Eventually, BWPRR created the “RRR (reduce, reuse, recycle) You Ready?, the NYC Teachers' RRResource Kit.”

“For years, people have been asking us to develop curriculum on recycling,” says Robert Lange, BWPRR director. “[Then,] in April 1998, with the help of the Office of Instructional Publications, we held a citywide Science Coordinators Conference. More than 100 educators [gave] suggestions and feedback … [to] effectively reach … teachers and students on the subject of waste reduction, reuse and recycling.”

The result: BWPRR staff discovered that educators needed materials and resources that they could incorporate into their existing lesson plans — not a new curriculum.

Lange and his staff began working on the kit in January 2000 and one year later, they distributed more than 15,000 free copies of the RRResource Kit to elementary schools citywide.

The resource includes a video, seven chapters about recycling program information, teacher preparation tips and class activities, sheet music, field trip ideas, and a list of books and websites detailing recycling information. The brightly colored and illustrated starter kit also provides flyers, decals and posters related to school recycling. A guide for teachers, principals and custodians on ways to improve existing school recycling programs is part of the kit, too.

“The resource kit is not limited only to the science curriculum,” Lange says. “It can be used to teach mathematics and language skills. Plus, … [it] meets all the current educational standards.”

Another benefit to the kit is that it's designed for the New York City population. For example, some recycling materials, which feature suburban settings with wide-open spaces and houses with yards, are hard to relate to if you are a child living in an urban environment, Lange says. But the children and illustrations featured in the BWPRR toolkit are representative of kids in New York City public schools and their true-to-life city dwellings.

According to Lange, the resource does not provide information on larger issues such as conserving the rain forest because the idea behind the kit was to focus on developing and ingraining recycling habits into children at an early age.

“One of our most challenging tasks has been to change New Yorkers' habits and attitudes about waste,” Lange says. “Until now, most of the department's efforts in school recycling have targeted only school administrators and custodians.” Currently, the BWPRR is trying to educate students about recycling in areas where they could actively participate, he says.

To keep kids thinking about recycling inside and outside of the classroom, BWPRR also created the Golden Apple Awards so that public and private schools would be encouraged to recycle and would be recognized for their achievements. Included as part of the awards program are two contests: “TrashMasters! RRR Challenge” and “Team Up to Clean Up!”

TrashMasters! RRR Challenge is designed to encourage principals, teachers and K-12 students to conceive, design and implement projects focused on reducing, reusing and recycling. Successful entries demonstrate a schoolwide effort to implement well-thought out programs, including activities such as promotional campaigns, daily recycling logs, class plays, art exhibits, recycling research, garden composting, and a song and jingle contest.

This year's TrashMasters! RRR Challenge winner was Staten Island elementary school, which devised “TrashMasters! Journal: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” As part of their efforts, students reduced staff junk mail by asking senders to remove teachers from mailing lists; they collected 195 pairs of used sneakers and returned them to Nike, Beaverton, Ore., for reuse in flooring, sports courts and under-padding; and they recycled inkjet cartridges and diskettes. The kids submitted a project book, story board and sample cut-away sneaker to document their work.

On the other hand, Team Up to Clean Up! is designed to encourage schools to plan, implement and document neighborhood beautification projects. This year, BWPRR awarded more than $86,000 in prizes to New York City schools.

In designing useful materials, BWPRR has evolved significantly since the initial attempts at creating a traveling theater production to teach kids about recycling. The toolkit — now available on an interactive DVD — is just one part of an ever-changing program, Lange says.

To learn more about the NYC Teachers' RRResource Kit, call the Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling in New York at (212) 837-8156. Website:

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Sarah Nichols is a free-lance writer based in Prairie Village, Kan.