December 19, 2005 | General

Students Operate "Feed The Bin" Program

BioCycle December 2005, Vol. 46, No. 12, p. 39
Wake County, North Carolina public schools involve classes in weekly collection of mixed paper. A pilot composting program will soon be included.
Emily Blalock

LAST FALL, the Wake County (North Carolina) Solid Waste Management Division began implementing a school recycling program called Feed The Bin to assist schools with their trash and recycling systems as well as integrate environmental education lessons throughout the public school system. Wake County currently has 137 public schools with an enrollment of over 130,000 students. Approximately 25 schools are phased into the program per semester so that schools experience a smooth transition and efficient operations and education. The program, currently implemented at 49 schools, focuses on weekly collection of mixed paper from all classrooms, portable units, and office spaces.
An essential part of this effort is a strong partnership between the solid waste division and the school system, which also allows for collection of aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Students, rather than custodial staff, are responsible for moving the material through the school, providing students with a sense of ownership of the program. “This has been a wonderful program for our students. It has brought about an awareness of the importance of recycling at a young age that will, one hopes, last a lifetime,” notes elementary school assistant principal Desmond Cornell. “Our students take great pride in their assignments to empty the bins and to roll the carts around school.”
Along with the operations of the program, a strong educational component is provided to the schools. A full-time environmental educator was hired to conduct presentations at each school and develop lesson plans based on solid waste topics. Incentive items such as recycled content pencils and books about garbage and recycling are distributed to students and teachers to encourage environmental stewardship through recycling. Other solid waste topic subunits are planned, including Buy Recycled, Landfills and Composting for implementation in coming years.
The Feed the Bin program replaces an existing recycling system of igloo-style containers located at numerous schools throughout the county that were available to the public for collection of recyclables. A pilot program and focus group of schools determined that the County should move away from the igloo system in order to provide more efficient recycling services to schools.
A grant proposal was submitted to the EPA this spring to set up a pilot composting program at selected schools. The grant would fund off-campus composting of food residuals and milk cartons collected through school cafeterias. The program could potentially divert 170 tons per year of materials and would begin in 2007.
Food residuals collection bins will be rented and placed in the cafeteria of each of the 25 pilot schools with instructions for each student to place uneaten food, paper napkins and milk cartons into the bin. Collection of the residuals will dovetail on a Styrofoam Tray Recycling Program the cafeteria already coordinates. The goal of the composting project is to not only reduce food residuals in the school system’s waste stream, but more importantly, to educate the students and faculty alike on the benefits of reducing waste and composting.
Emily Blalock is the School Recycling Educator at the Wake County Solid Waste Management Division based in Raleigh, North Carolina. For more information on the Feed The Bin program, she can be e-mailed at

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