We New Yorkers create approximately 26,000 tons of garbage a day, enough to fill the entire Empire State Building in a week. Like the rest of the city, all New York City schools, both public and private, are required by law to recycle. Schools in Manhattan’s District 3 have taken the lead in enacting extensive recycling programs and reducing waste in their schools.

Last year Jennifer Freeman, an environmental writer whose child attended PS 166, invited schools in District 3 to share ideas and information about going green. Her initiative gave rise to “D3 Green Schools,” a group that meets monthly to discuss how to make the district’s schools more sustainable. As Jennifer explains, “Everything the D3 Green Schools did last year was low-cost, with minimal time required from school staffs. We hope all schools will soon have recycling programs, cut their energy use, and find other ways to build green communities.”

Before highlighting the many accomplishments of D3 Green Schools, we’d like to clarify what schools are supposed to be doing to reduce their waste. Chancellor’s Regulation A-850 requires principals to appoint a “sustainability coordinator” at their schools from their administrative or teaching staffs. The principal and sustainability coordinator are responsible for creating and implementing a recycling and waste reduction plan for their school. This year, principals must submit their recycling plans to the Department of Education by Nov. 12.

If your school doesn’t have clearly labeled recycling bins in every classroom, office, and in the cafeteria, it may be time to form a Green Committee at your school comprised of parents, teachers and students to make sure recycling actually gets implemented and that the entire school community is on board. The Department of Sanitation has created videos for students that you can screen to help people at your school understand the importance of recycling. You can also order free decals and educational materials from the city to make sure bins are clearly labeled and that students and teachers understand what they’re supposed to be recycling and how.

Many of the recycling initiatives undertaken by D3 Green Schools go beyond the classroom to include the wider school community. As you will see, recycling can be a great fundraising opportunity for your school as well as a way to give back to your community. If you’d like to be part of D3 Green Schools (and your school doesn’t have to be in District 3 to participate), start by joining its Yahoo group.

Here’s what some District 3 schools have already done to promote recycling:

  • PS 334 has established a strong recycling collection program that includes collecting mixed paper and metal/glass/plastic beverage containers in classrooms and offices, metal cans and corrugated cardboard boxes in the kitchen, and metal/glass/plastic beverage containers and foil in the cafeteria, with the potential to recycle more than 700 milk cartons a day. The cafeteria has a bucket into which students pour their extra milk and then recycle the containers. Students trained as “Trash Troopers” help to police the recycling bins in their classrooms and the cafeteria, and they also help teach students how and what to recycle.
  • PS 199 made “Reduce & Reuse” its focus last year, with the goal of keeping as much waste as possible out of landfills. PS 199 collected unwanted small electronics, like old cell phones, calculators, and digital cameras, and mailed them to “Cartridges for Kids” for cash. Cartridges for Kids is a recycling program that pays schools and non-profits for cell phones, inkjet cartridges, laptops, iPods, digital cameras, video games and DVDs. Young students helped count and graph the donated items as they came in. PS 199 also organized a Halloween costume swap. They collected 128 pairs of old eyeglasses for New Eyes for the Needy, books for Project Cicero, clothes and other items for Haitian children, sneakers for Nike’s Re-Use-a-Shoe program, bottle caps for Aveda (sorted by kindergarteners as part of their math curriculum), and textiles for Wearable Collections. PS 199 also implemented a recycling program in their cafeteria. As part of a school project, kids made a film to the soundtrack of “Man in the Mirror,” with children offering ideas on how to help the planet followed by a demonstration of their new cafeteria recycling program.
  • PS 87 runs a cell phone, printer cartridge, and battery recycling program. PS 87 also hosts an annual clothing and textile recycling drive in partnership with Wearable Collections. Throughout the year, PS 87 hosts used book and rummage sales, which support reuse, raise a little money, and reduce landfill. PS 87 hosts an annual Eco 87 Day, an interactive fair that educates and inspires students and families with hands-on games, activities, arts, and crafts.
  • PS 163 has a recycling program where students separate their lunch trash into large, clearly marked bins in their cafeteria. Classroom jobs empower students to bring used materials to designated recycling areas. Parents are encouraged to assist in waste reduction by packing their children’s lunch with recyclable materials. PS 163 held a workshop for parents at which children, parents, and professionals introduced green ideas and showed how the school was tackling them.

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