Children have been learning for years to conserve the planet. But that lesson often ended with a worksheet tossed in a trash can.
It was a mixed message that the school district wanted to clear up. In 2007, superintendent MaryEllen Elia highlighted conservation as a priority through education and student-led energy patrols.
And this year, officials are taking a big step. Recycling bins are coming to Hillsborough classrooms.
David Borisenko, recycling coordinator for the district, placed an order this month for 4,000 bins. They will be in classrooms at 50 schools and administrative sites the first week of October. He hopes to put them in every school by the end of the school year.
And a bonus: Going green could save the district greenbacks.
Cost savings — in this season of slimming down — were required for a recycling contract, said School Board member Candy Olson. She has persisted in gathering information on recycling options and keeping it a hot topic.
The board awarded the recycling contract for the district to Republic Services in July. The district currently pays $8 to $9 per cubic yard for trash pickup, including potential recyclables, said Borisenko. With Republic, recyclable items will be removed from regular trash and will cost $5.87 per cubic yard for pickup, at least $2 less. Republic will also provide the bins and a rolling 96-gallon cart and Dumpster at each school. The company will pass along a rebate to the district for each ton of recyclables it sells.
Students and teachers will be able to recycle paper, glass, plastics and foam cartons. Republic uses single-stream collection, which means the debris will be collected in mass and sorted later, mostly by machine. The city of Tampa currently recycles in the same form, but operates at a loss.
Paper is a valuable commodity and schools generate mounds of it, making it profitable for both the district and the recyclers, Borisenko said. He hopes Republic will eventually take milk cartons and juice packets as well.
In recent years, some schools had made scattered attempts to recycle.
A group of concerned parents at Coleman Middle School formed the Environmental Improvement Force. Coleman had the district's first school curbside recycling program. With free pickup from the city of Tampa, the idea soon spread to other area schools.
The sites picked to start the new program did not have full recycling curbside pickup, Borisenko said. But some, like Pride Elementary, had been collecting paper for years. To conserve even more trees, the school's PTA will be paperless this year, said principal Cindy M. Land.
Land's students often come in with stories of being green at home by helping their parents and friends recycle.
At King High School, students formed a Green Club, and some teachers recycled paper, said principal Carla Bruning. The full recycling pickup will make it easier for everyone to recycle, she said.
"As an ex-science teacher I'm really behind it 100 percent," she said.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.