With shrinking landfill space, and solid waste and recycling more of a public concern, communities across the country are playing active roles in protecting the environment. This effort is trickling into schools where children are learning to reduce, reuse and recycle through hands-on experience.
Proof can be found in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Solid Waste booklet, "Service-Learning: Education and Beyond," which profiles various school and community projects practiced by youth in grades kindergarten through 12.
EPA's booklet was designed to:
* Encourage environmental service in solid and hazardous waste areas;
* Link these experiences to positive behavioral changes, such as waste prevention and recycling; and
* Demonstrate how skills that students acquire can be a stepping stone to an environmental career.
At Taos Elementary, Taos, N.M., for example, third-grade students completed several one-time service-learning projects that taught them about waste first-hand. Students began with an analysis of how much trash and what types of items they were throwing away. After two weeks, the class learned what could be recycled.
Then, to see what happens to trash and recyclable materials after being collected, students took field trips to the county landfill and a recycling center.
The class also worked with a local textile recycling company that taught the third graders how to make a "story cloth," a quilt that illustrates stories through shapes and colors. At the end of the project, students wrote letters requesting public officials' assistance in starting a school recycling program.
Solving their local landfill's problems became the task of the Calvert County, Md.,-based Calvert Middle School program, also profiled in the EPA booklet. In fact, one of the student's projects saved the county's landfill more than $12,000.
Initially, students attended a week-long summer camp, which included guided tours of the local landfill. During the tour, the landfill manager identified several problems and asked students to suggest solutions. Loose paper and debris was problematic, so the students devised a contraption made of scrap lumber and netting - materials found at the landfill - to harness the garbage. The big payoff, however came with students' solution to the problem the facility faced with scavenging seagulls that were destroying the landfill office roof. Using wood brasses and cross-strung nylon line also found at the site, the students diverted the seagulls from the roof - saving the landfill thousands in roof repair costs.
The largest community project described in the booklet involves a 3,200-member 4-H club in Sevierville, Tenn. When Sevier County expanded its recycling sites in 1993, the 4-H club distributed bookmarks, which promoted the new recycling opportunities to local businesses. High school students also drummed up interest in oil recycling by asking parents and neighbors to dispose of used oil in designated containers as opposed to dumping it down a drain or into the ground.
With the help of the 4-H clubs, after five years, the county's oil recycling has increased from 1,200 gallons per year to 25,000 gallons per year.
Other ideas for service-learning projects described in the EPA booklet include school cafeteria-recycling and sorting days, used clothing and furniture weekends and multifamily dwelling collection days. Each school and community profile includes contact information that can help start similar programs in your area.
Service-learning, which combines academic knowledge with service and personal reflection, is one of the key education and outreach efforts the EPA Office of Solid Waste uses to promote responsible waste management.
For a list of national organizations that can assist with service-learning projects ideas and grants such as Corporation for National Service, Learn and Serve America National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, National 4-H Council, Boys & Girls Club of America, etc., contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Solid Waste (MC: 5305W), Washington, D.C. 20460 or visit www.epa.gov/osw