Walnut Creek Elementary School had an opportunity to start a new club four years ago.
So music teacher Lindsey Cayer decided to start the Green Team.
“I’m very into recycling and reusing. I wanted to provide a way for our students to learn more about recycling and saving the planet,” Cayer said.
The club, made up of third- and fourth-graders, gives students a chance to learn about recycling while giving back to the community through fundraising. Twice a week, club members collect recyclables throughout the school. Each student is assigned a specific classroom to collect from. Students also collect items in a bin during lunch.
Cayer and the Green Team work with TerraCycle, which takes difficult-to-recycle packaging and upcycles — reusing old items to create products of higher value, rather than the same product — it by turning it into consumer goods.
Some of the items include pencil cases or backpacks made of juice pouches or chip bags. Recycled items that aren’t in as good of shape are melted into plastic and used for trash cans or park benches.
The club earns points for each item collected and sent to TerraCycle. With the points, the club decides between purchasing TerraCycle products, donating to charities or donating to nonprofits. The Green Team has used its points to try all three options.
At Christmas, Cayer used the team’s points to order upcycled pencil pouches for club members. They have also donated to various charities.
Club members have a say in what charities they choose, Cayer said. Last time, they donated to multiple charities because students were interested in more than one.
For their nonprofit, the team chose their own school. Money they’ve earned through recycling has gone toward buying music and playground equipment for the school.
“We’ve used the money to help our own school,” Cayer said.
In addition to items the school collects for TerraCycle, students recycle paper products through Papillion Sanitation and electronics through Funding Factory, which offers a similar program to TerraCycle.
The Green Team earns points for the electronic items collected. Through Funding Factory, they earn money that is donated to the school.
Parents have shown interest in dropping off electronics such as ink cartridges and unwanted cellphones, Cayer said.
“People bring in boxes of cellphones that they had in a junk drawer and they didn’t know what to do with them,” she said.
Collecting recyclables helps students to make relationships with teachers, Cayer said. Students assigned to older classrooms develop relationships with teachers they may have in the future. Students with younger classrooms get a chance to reconnect with past teachers.
“It’s really neat,” Cayer said. “They’re building those relationships throughout the school and not just in their own grade level.”
Cayer frequently hears success stories from students who continue to recycle outside of the classroom.
“It’s really encouraging that they’re taking it into their own lives and homes,” Cayer said.
Many students didn’t recycle at home. But, after joining the Green Team, Cayer said, they’ve worked with parents to implement at-home recycling. Some even enforce recycling rules while on vacation, she said.
In addition to collecting recyclables twice a week, the club of about 25 members meets once a month.
Students also meet in small groups to help Cayer sort, pack and ship items. The school has a recycling center with labeled bins near the front entrance.
In the large group meetings, students learn about why recycling is important, how they can recycle and how they can encourage others to recycle.
They celebrate America Recycles Day in November and Earth Day in April, Cayer said. Throughout the year, club members work on projects such as contests to see what class can bring in the most of a certain item to recycle.
“It’s a cool idea to encourage kids to get really excited about it,” Cayer said. “I knew if I could help 50 kids to be passionate about it, it would trickle out. Even one person putting forth some effort can make a difference.”