Check Out How These Student Recycling Stars Shine
Read their stories to get inspired.
School recycling programs would not be the same without a dedicated group of students who ensure its success. For some, school recycling programs just wouldn’t exist without the passion and drive of a recycling team. Whether it’s sorting and tallying recyclables or encouraging their peers to recycle too, passionate students lead the way! We asked Recycle Rally leaders to nominate their student recycling stars. Though all of them shine bright, these students really stood out.
1. Cherry School’s Recycling Stars in Iron, MN are recycling (and upcycling) for local animal shelters.
Twice per week, eight students in the 4th through 9th grade proudly visit every classroom at Cherry School to collect plastic and aluminum for recycling. But it doesn’t stop there. As Cherry School’s recycling stars learned more about the effects of waste on the planet, they sought out solutions for non-recyclable materials while benefiting their local animal shelters too. Win-win! These students are now designing products such as treat jars, food puzzles, pet beds, and cat toys and scratchers out of plastics 3-7, non-usable textiles, and corrugated cardboard. Products are then donated to local shelters, and pet owners receive free toys when they adopt. Cherry School’s Cans for Cats (and Dogs) program has double the impact by donating funds earned from aluminum recycling, too!
To top it all off, these students are now educating younger students and the school community to recycle right. These recycling stars are creating age-appropriate projects, curriculum, and even a website to communicate recycling facts and ideas. Special Ed teacher Jamie Herzmann states, “What started as a project for our Setting III Special Education Program to learn job skills has transformed into a desire to problem solve, educate, and make a real difference.”
2. In a post-COVID world, students at Bednarcik Junior High School in Aurora, IL are leading the charge on recycling.
After returning to in person instruction post-pandemic, Bednarcik Junior High School’s recycling program was long gone. Custodians were throwing out recycling, there was no recycling in the cafeteria, and students were throwing garbage into recycling bins. Enter Caz and Lydia – two inspired students on a mission to change things. First, the two girls met with their principal and building engineer to come up with a plan. Using Recycle Rally reward points, they secured a rolling cart, three round bins, and bag liners. Due to staffing shortages on the custodial staff, the students recruited a team of 10 to collect recycling around the building two days per week.
Since most of the bins contained a lot of garbage, the team needed to problem solve. They realized that they had to teach not only their peers but also teachers about what could actually be recycled at school. The team started weekly announcements and posting handmade signs to increase awareness. Then, they began giving teachers mini reports each week to “grade” their recycling bins, either stating positive feedback or suggestions on how to improve. As teachers received positive feedback, more students followed suit and started recycling properly. The progress these recycling stars made inspired them to go a step further and secure a textile recycling bin, which collected 849 pounds of textiles in the first month.
On the last day before winter break, Caz and Lydia stayed late and collected bottles and paper after a school-wide locker and backpack cleanout. Now that’s dedication!
3. Eisenhower Elementary’s EcoEagles Ambassadors spread enthusiasm for recycling in Boulder, CO.
The Eisenhower EcoEagles Green Team is a group of 17 students in grades 1-5. This dedicated bunch meets weekly to learn about sustainability and work to engage their school to meet the district’s Zero Waste goals. The team is filled with recycling stars going above and beyond to promote recycling and other sustainable practices! Here are some examples:
- Older EcoEagle Ambassadors don construction vests and act as Zero Waste Goalies at lunch by standing by the waste station and making sure trash goes into the correct receptacles. These students have become experts on what goes where.
- The 2nd graders, on their own volition, instigated a recycling collection of snack time waste at recess. Staffing handmade recycling bins and sorting through trash may not sound like an interesting job at 7 years old, but these kids made it fun! They even recruited non-green team members to chip in, too.
- Word got around to the EcoEagles that a student’s parents were involved in textile recycling. The team then reached out and secured a postage paid box for collecting used socks and shipping them to be recycled. This diverted over 100 pounds of textiles from landfill!
EcoEagles are encouraging family members to recycle at home, too. One Ambassador encouraged her grandparents to request a recycling bin from their local trash hauler. Another worked with a local business to improve their recycling bin storage. A third got her mother to purchase one item over another because the packaging was more easily recyclable. Paraeducator Marti Hirsch states, “I am so very proud of the students on the EcoEagles Green Team. They are passionate about their mission, and this in turn has helped spread enthusiasm about recycling throughout our school and beyond.”
4. One high school student’s passion is contagious at Calvary Christian School in Columbus, GA.
Nautica’s passion for helping the planet was eminent when she started high school at Calvary Christian School. In her freshman year, she convinced the senior class of 2019 to gift the high school with water refilling stations. As a sophomore, she ran a campaign to fill the school with recycling bins. Last year, she worked with the maintenance staff to develop a hands-free way of recycling bottles that was safe for everyone during the pandemic. As a senior, she is now walking the hallways encouraging students to use the water bottle refill stations and recycling bins that adorn the school – all while managing the school’s collecting and sorting of recyclables.
What impressed us most about Nautica is her knack for educating and inspiring others, too. With her own money, Nautica has provided fun incentives for elementary school students to recycle plastic bottles during summer camps. These young students also get to play a weekly game about recycling facts, thanks to Nautica’s leadership! Although she was out sick for a week, Nautica lined up students to handle all of her responsibilities. Calvary Christian teacher Mary Newman states, “We have several students trained by Nautica to run the program. I know the school will continue to successfully recycle plastic bottles for years to come, thanks to Nautica’s efforts during her high school years.”
5. This school recycling program in Stillwater, NJ started with a few students’ concerns about cafeteria waste.
Stillwater County Elementary School’s recycling program started with a few concerned students who met with the Administration and Custodial team to conduct a waste audit of their cafeteria. Overwhelmed with how much waste was being thrown away each day, they were determined to enact change. Shortly thereafter, they proposed a new recycling system that would include bins sized for smaller children, complete with signage that would make recycling easier for all. In time, this group grew from 4 students to become the Cafeteria Connection – a student-led group of more than 40 student volunteers from grades 4 and 6.
Students began assisting daily at the recycling stations in the cafeteria to help the school recycle paper, plastic bottles, juice boxes and milk cartons. They have also led a lunch room milk carton recycling contest and have several events planned for upcoming months, including door decorating contests and recycling bin design challenges. The students’ work in the cafeteria inspired them to launch a plastic film recycling collection system at the school as well. To date, they have recycled more than 185 pounds of film! Community members heard about the program and contacted the student group to request that bins be placed throughout the community. Soon, all residents of Stillwater will be able to join the Cafeteria Connection’s recycling efforts!
This team has been recognized at Board of Education meetings for their dedication, and within the community for their steadfast commitment to making this change. Teacher Elaine Makarevich states, “In just a few short months, [the Cafeteria Connection has] transformed our students’ way of thinking when they carry their lunch trays to the recycling bins.”
6. Wyoming East High School’s Friends of the Earth (FOTE) Club brings passion from microplastics research in New Richmond, WV.
Wyoming East High School may be small, but it carries a big responsibility. The only recycling center in the county is in the back of the school, and it’s run by Wyoming East Friends of the Earth Club (FOTE). Dedicated students sort recyclables two days per week week during the school year. They even work school off days when necessary! During the summer, the club hosts marathon sorting and pizza parties.
The students’ passion comes from the school’s environmental classes, where they learn the dangers of microplastics in the ecosystem. Members of the club began research by collecting samples to determine if microplastics were present in their area, leading them to win a State level STEM contest. Since they know recycling helps to alleviate microplastics pollution, the club has presented to the local County Commission and soon to the City Council to try and expand recycling efforts in their county.
Roles performed by members include media (Facebook, posters, surveys), event planning (contests, assemblies) and sorting (weighing and tracking). Each student knows his or her role, which enhances the club’s efficiency. Recycling pep rallies, trivia competitions, and contests with donut party prizes are all fruits of FOTE team effort! The team is now exploring a new venture for the club, forming social media accounts in which they announce and execute community contests. Through this medium, other schools are reaching out to the club to learn how to start a recycling program in their school, too. Teacher Brittany Bauer says, “The FOTE has inspired a recycling movement and each member plays a contributing role.”
7. Crown Point High School’s student group, the Green Machine, runs on autopilot in Crown Point, IN.
“A school can have a perfect system of recycling, but without passionate students, nothing would be accomplished,” says Melissa Beach, science teacher Crown Point High School. Here, the student group Green Machine spends every Wednesday afternoon collecting and sorting bottles and cans. After separating out non-recyclable waste, they fill up to 3 to 4 large bins full of recyclables. This process is very time consuming, but it is only possible because of the ten to fifteen students who continue to show up week after week. They’ve even inspired friends to get involved, too!
Green Machine also runs a flexible plastics program in the cafeteria. During the school day, at least one student visits the cafeteria and collects the plastic drink rings and plastic bags school food is served in. We love how the students’ dedication to recycling keeps the Green Machine running smoothly.
8. PS 90’s Green Team in Brooklyn, NY goes above and beyond.
PS 90, the Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness, has an award-winning green team of 25 environmentally-conscious 4th and 5th graders. Some of their initiatives include:
- Grading each classroom’s recycling practices.
- Leading lessons on how to recycle for struggling students and staff.
- Collecting recycling around the school through a 10-stream recycling system.
- Installing plastic bag holders for plastic bag recycling, and hanging up posters to encourage their use.
- Creating a composting system on campus. The school is a food scrap drop-off site, which the community utilizes daily!
- Creating weekly environmental sustainability videos for the school community. These videos cover topics such as climate change, recycling, gardening, and pollinators.
This young team’s efforts are so impressive!
9. Recycling stars at Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, KY serve two different, yet important roles.
Covington Catholic High School’s recycling stars are two seniors, Reagan and Charlie. Reagan serves as the president of the Green Ambassadors team, and organizing events throughout the school year is his focus. He has created recycling collection schedules for all of the green team members, making it much easier and more organized. Wednesdays are big collection days, and Reagan’s idea was to offer gift cards (redeemed from Recycle Rally rewards) to the participants. Via a phone app, he randomly selects a name to receive a gift card each time. What a clever motivator! He’s also the team’s music man, playing tunes to keep the team in high spirits while they work.
The Green Ambassador club has several projects each year, and Reagan oversees each while working to bring the team together in a more unified group. This past fall the team organized a Technology Recycling Day in which they collected old computers, phones, and other items in a drive-through setting. Reagan brought breakfast, served as the spokesperson, and again brought the music to keep the group vibing through the morning!
Charlie is another sincere recycling star who always volunteers and attends every event. If the group needs someone responsible, they call Charlie. A few times, he was not even at school but came after school to help with recycling anyway. He serves as an inspiration and role model for all of the Green Ambassadors.
10. These recycling stars at Eagleville Elementary in Eagle, WI see yucky surprises as teachable moments.
At the end of every school day, a group of 5th and 6th graders at Eagleville Elementary Charter School visit each classroom, office, common space, and kitchen to gather recyclables. These students have advocated for more recycling bins around the school, thus increasing their workload. Sometimes, they even have to remove some pretty gross items that don’t belong in the recycling bin, such as used tissues, stinky banana peels, and classroom pet waste. Instead of shying away from their responsibilities, the students use these opportunities as teachable moments for others. As a result, recycling improves as the year progresses.
Once the students separate out the non-recyclables, all of the collected recyclables are placed in an outside shed by the building manager. Each week on Monday, these students from Mr. Steib’s class head outside to weigh the entire week’s worth of materials. They do this in all types of Wisconsin weather. Whether it’s ninety degrees or ten below zero, these students are eager to collect the data! Catherine Selzer-Benavides, teacher at Eagleville Elementary states, “I feel that they deserve recognition for their efforts, because without them our school’s recycling program would not be as robust and successful as it has proven to be.”
We are so inspired by all of the student recycling stars making a difference in their schools nationwide.