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WNC Business

Local school implements simple recycling program with big results

Jun 12, 2023 10:21AM ● By WNC Business

A recent collaboration between Junaluska Elementary fifth graders, Haywood Community College students, and Haywood County Solid Waste and Recycling will keep about 90,000 juice and milk cartons out of the county landfill each school year.

The project began last summer when HCC’s environmental science students and Environmental Leadership Club invited the county’s recycling coordinator, Zondra Kuykendall, to teach them about local recycling. “We were surprised at how many items cannot be recycled in our county and how many recyclable items are filling up our landfills,” said HCC Biology Instructor and club advisor Susan Roberts.

Roberts reached out to Joy Sollie, Junaluska Elementary School Counselor, who thought the project would be a great fit for her fifth-grade safety patrol leaders. “Our class and club are mostly Haywood Early College students, and we are very passionate about Haywood County Schools,” Ezra Roth, the club president said. “It was so easy and fun for us to put together our own training with Mrs. Kuykendall’s help, and then present to the Junaluska fifth-grade safety patrol.”

HCC’s students used a students-teaching-students model to connect with the younger students and gain hands-on learning beyond the classroom. “Our students were so excited to learn from HCC students,” said Sollie. Likewise, Roberts said her HCC students were equally thrilled. “I could tell the high school students were having fun as they all were smiling as they were talking to the younger students.”

For the first training in February, HCC students used games such as “chasing arrows” and “wish-cycling” to share details about recycling contamination. One HCC student dressed up as a “bag monster” made from plastic shopping bags to illustrate how many bags the average US family uses each year. During the second training in May, Junaluska students designed recycling art to advertise the new program. The recycling program launched on May 15th, and will continue next year.

“Recycling a few milk cartons and juice boxes seems like such a small thing,” said Roberts. “Junaluska Elementary students drink an average 325 cartons of milk and 180 boxes of juice at breakfast and lunch, which means more than 500 milk and juice containers can be recycled per day, 2,500 per week, and about 90,000 per school year!” (These numbers do not include drinks consumed during after-school programming.)

Hailey Hartshorn, environmental science student and Haywood Early College junior helped design the training and worked with Junaluska’s students. “This project was fun and rewarding! We all learned how to step up as science communication leaders to make a meaningful difference.”

“Community is what makes this project magical. Alone, we couldn’t have made any difference,” said Sollie. “The question is now, what can we do next?”

Roberts says her students are eager to bring the program to more Haywood County Schools, and Kuykendall says the county will provide the recycling containers.  “This will be something that we can grow, not only in the elementary schools; but as the students move up to middle and high school, they will take what they learned and help implement programs in those schools as well.  These fifth graders could one day be the HCC students teaching the next batch of elementary students, which would be a fantastic legacy” says Kuykendall. 

For more information about Haywood Early College, please visit HECHaywood.k12.NC.US/Haywood-Early-College-New-Student-Application.

About Haywood Community College:

Haywood Community College is part of the North Carolina Community College System and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges. Founded in 1965, it is an open-door institution with the mission of serving the educational needs and economic growth of our community by promoting lifelong student learning and successThis includes programs for Haywood County high school students through Career and College Promise and Haywood Early College. The college campus, a designated arboretum, boasts one of the most beautiful college campuses in the state with an iconic mill pond, seasonal dahlia and rhododendron gardens, an 18-hole disc golf course and a walking trail.

Photos courtesy of Susan Roberts: Environmental Club students teaching elementary students and students with the updated recycling bins at Lake Junaluska Elementary School. HCC Student, Paige East shows off the “bag monster” costume that represents all of the single use plastic bags used by one family in one year. She also describes how single use plastic is the number one contaminant at the MRF. Junaluska Elementary Safety Patrol members and HCC Environmental Leadership Club Member Will Roberts and Safety Patrol Members Case Barbee, Brantley Cogdill, Jaylah Williams, and Maxwell Hogan show off one of the new recycling bins for juice box and milk cartons.