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April 21, 2010 > Brier students earn top recycling honor

Brier students earn top recycling honor

By Rhonda Rigenhagen
Photos By Jennifer Tischer

Most parents struggle to get a kid to keep a clean room. So what's inspiring students at Brier Elementary School to keep the planet clean?

Brier's 450 kindergarten through sixth-grade students recycle and compost more than half of the school's waste. Their exceptional performance prompted Allied Waste Services to name them the 2010 Recycling Role Model for schools in the Fremont Unified School District.

Composting, mixed recycling, and a lot of training are responsible for the impressive numbers, according to fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Tischer. A self-described recycling fanatic, Tischer championed more environmentally-friendly practices at Brier.

"Last year we were throwing away 450 Styrofoam(r) plates every day," she notes. "I just said, 'There's got to be a better way.' The idea of zero waste appeals to me."

"It just takes one person to have an idea and make it work," Brier Principal Jan March says in crediting Tischer for spearheading the school's achievements.

Thus began a composting crusade. The school replaced plastic plates with those made of cardboard and created a recycling station in the cafeteria.

"We set up cans in front of the room and showed the kids how we were going to do it," Tischer explains. "We had sixth-grade volunteers help out. Kids have a tendency to dump and run, so it took about a month of having to stay on top of it."

"Even kindergarteners are more than capable of learning to recycle," March stresses. "With very little training and encouragement, they learn the system quite quickly."

Now the vast majority of cafeteria wastes - milk cartons, food scraps and plates - are composted.

"We've got it down to a science," Tischer adds. "The kids are very good at it. Now we have one big trash bag of garbage per day. Everything else is composted or recycled."

Improved classroom recycling also contributes to the school's success. Each room has a mixed recycling container for paper, cardboard, cans and bottles.

After composting, recycling and stacking plates to reduce volume, Brier was able to eliminate one of two large trash bins and replace them with a smaller bin for compostables. They are saving more than $350 per month as a result.

It ain't easy being green!

Unfortunately, the higher cost of the compostable lunch trays exceeds savings. "The District has put out bids to try to get the costs down," March explains. "This was a pilot program. We've started getting calls from other interested schools, and we hope that being able to purchase in larger quantities will reduce the price."

Brier hosted an electronic waste fundraiser in an effort to fund next year's program, but bad weather, Super Bowl Sunday, and a surplus of similar events resulted in minimal proceeds.

Allied will make up part of the shortfall. In addition to presenting a plaque at a school assembly celebrating the students' recycling efforts, the company is donating $1,000 to support the activities that made Brier a 2010 Recycling Role Model.

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