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Schools are doing their part to reduce and reuse

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Did you know the average Minnesotan sends over 2,000 pounds of garbage to our landfills every year?

While many people do recycle, compost and reuse or repurpose, many others do not, including some schools.

According to Minnesota Statute 115A.151, all public entities — which includes schools — are required to recycle a minimum of three types of materials, which in turn will help lighten the load at the local landfills.

Several local schools are getting on board with help from Carlton County’s School Recycling and Waste Reduction grant program. The program aims to ensure that the quantity of waste in local schools is reduced and that recyclable materials are diverted from the solid waste stream … meaning they don’t end up in a landfill.

The hope is that once the students learn how to recycle in school, they will take the lesson home with them and continue the cycle of recycling there.

The project is in its infancy, but Emily Kolodge — a Minnesota GreenCorps member who helped get it up and running over the past school year — is optimistic.

Karola Dalen, recycling coordinator for Carlton County Zoning and Environmental Services, came up with the idea for the Green Schools project and applied for a Minnesota GreenCorps member, which resulted in Kolodge being sent to work with Dalen. (GreenCorps is a subset of AmeriCorps that was created by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.)

Kolodge and Dalen sent out applications to all of the local schools at the beginning of this school year and several responded.

“My main project is to manage the Green Schools Project and to be the main contact for schools,” Kolodge said. “I work with the schools to determine what they need as far as recycling goes and to help them purchase products from their grant money.”

Washington Elementary, Cloquet Middle School and Cloquet High School, Queen of Peace, Cromwell-Wright, Wrenshall, Moose Lake and both Carlton High School and South Terrace Elementary all applied for the grant program monies from GreenCorps, which works out of Carlton County Zoning and Environmental Services office and received $2,000 towards recycling programs at each school.

The grant requires that the school have an established basic recycling program set up before they can apply for more grant money for other projects.

After Kolodge receives a request from a school, she goes into the school and meets with the maintenance department to do a waste assessment.

“First they have to have the basics down: paper, cardboard, metal, plastic and glass. They have to have the infrastructure for that. They also need to have clear signage,” Kolodge said. “Another thing we like to see is the bins close together, because if people have to go out of their way to recycle, they are less likely to do so.”

Kolodge went on to say that when she went into the Moose Lake School District to see what type of a recycling program they had implemented, she discovered they had a few makeshift bins with no signs marking them as such.

Therefore they did not meet the basic recycling requirements and had to apply their grant money towards buying recycling bins for the hallways and classrooms.

Now that the first step has been satisfied, they can reapply for the grant again next school year and move onto something else, like a milk dispenser or a water-bottle refill machine.

Moose Lake schools are one of the few that have been using real silverware instead of plastic. Yes, that’s right, several schools have been using plastic sporks for years and some use styrofoam plates, according to Kolodge.

Cloquet’s Washington Elementary School was one of those schools. They have now ditched the “sporks” and purchased real silverware for the students with their grant money.

During lunchtime the Cloquet Middle School students come up to the garbage cans one table at a time and throw their waste into the plastic recycling, food waste or the regular garbage cans under the watchful eye of a lunch lady before depositing the empty trays to be washed.

The food waste cans are lined with special biodegradable bags, which are put into a separate bin for the garbage trucks to pick up and take to the composting facility at Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD).

Residents can also bring their food waste to the Carlton County Transfer Station free of charge as long as it is in the special compostable bags, added Kolodge.

Outside of the lunchroom, middle school students recycle plastics 1-7, paper, aluminum, tin, glass and cardboard.

“I would consider the middle school a step ahead of most schools as they are the only ones to collect organics,” Kolodge said. “However, many of the schools don't have a garbage hauler that will take organics, so it would be difficult — if not impossible — for them to make that leap.”

Kolodge noted that other schools have expressed interest in collecting the organic waste, but only Cloquet Sanitary Service and WLSSD offer this service at this time.

Queen of Peace students line up in an orderly fashion at a table set up in the front of the lunch room with plastic pans set up for the students’ leftover food waste and another for milk cartons. Milk cartons are NOT recyclable in Carlton County as they are covered in a waxy substance that the county is not set up to recycle.

With their grant money, Queen of Peace School purchased bright, primary-colored bins in which the students separate and place their recyclables in the lunchroom. The green bin is for glossy paper that they sell to Verso in Duluth for extra money, the blue bin is for regular paper that does not go to Verso, and the bottom yellow bin is for “rigids” (plastic containers, glass and metal).

On the way out of the Catholic grade school, there is a line of three 50-gallon recycling carts, clearly labeled for what can be deposited into them, as well as a colorful sign above the bins. They were also purchased with the grant money.

Because the program just started this school year, the results of the recycling is not yet known, but every bit recycled is that much less in our shrinking landfill space.

According to Kolodge, the money for the grant came from SCORE (Select Committee on Recycling and the Environment) funds. SCORE is part of Minnesota’s Waste Management Act and provides counties with a funding source to develop waste reduction, recycling and solid waste management programs. In 2015, Carlton County received an increase in SCORE funds, so Dalen decided to allocate $10,000 into a grant program for schools. The plan is to continue allocating $10,000 yearly if the budget allows.

Kolodge said they plan to send the applications to all of the schools again at the beginning of the next school year, with an extra focus on the ones who did not apply last year.