Littlebrook School has won first place in the statewide TREX Recycling Challenge after a year-long effort in collecting, weighing and transporting 720 pounds - the equivalent of 58,000 bags - of plastic.
Moving beyond merely teaching and learning about recycling, students, staff and parents at Littlebrook Elementary School decided to step up and take action at the beginning of the year.
“All year, we’ve had the pleasure of watching children arrive with large bags of plastic in their arms and huge grins on their faces,” said Littlebrook Principal Annie Kosek. “They’ve loved doing their part to help out the environment, ensuring that these plastics avoid the landfill and instead get recycled.”
As a result, the school has been awarded a new TREX bench, made from recycled lumber and plastics -- precisely the plastics the students have been collecting. These include all kinds of bags and films like shopping, grocery, bread, cereal, dry-cleaning, and ziploc bags, as well as carton overwrap, newspaper sleeves and bubble wrap. Furthermore, simply for their participation in the Challenge, the school also received a TREX planter box. Both will soon welcome students and staff at the main entrance.
Clearly, there’s pride in winning an award, but Science Teacher Martha Friend said it was a little tricky to balance the idea of a competition with the actual goal of environmentalism. “Early on, we were surprised to hear students wondering if their parents should start buying more plastics so we could collect more,” explained Friend, who led the efforts within the school. “So, we just continuously reminded the kids that our true goal was to help the Earth. Winning the competition was exciting, but it couldn’t be the main goal.”
“And that idea really caught on,” Friend said. “Simply continuing to use plastic in this quantity is not our endgame. Now that we’ve built awareness about all of the plastics we are consuming, the next step at Littlebrook is to promote reduction. After all, with recent reports that bits of plastic are filling our oceans and even creeping into our sea salts and other foods we consume, the time to act is now.”
“The Littlebrook community is clearly eager to do more to help out the environment, so it’s wonderful that TREX gave us the opportunity to participate,” said Kosek. “But perhaps the most amazing thing about this project is just how successful it’s been.”
Friend and parent volunteer Jenny Ludmer reached out to others in the community and readily found several willing partners. ACME of Lawrenceville collected shopping bags from their clients, while two Princeton restaurants -- George’s Roasters & Ribs and Slice Between -- focused on collecting the overwrap from their incoming packages. Furthermore, Princeton Radiology started saving the plastic bags that encase mammogram gowns.
Although the Challenge has ended, the team will continue recycling and hopes it spreads. “We will keep a bin at Littlebrook, but anyone in the area can drop all of these plastics at Target or McCaffrey’s too,” reported Ludmer. “And next year, hopefully other schools and organizations will sign up to participate in the Challenge.”
“If one little elementary school managed to collect the equivalent of about 58,000 plastic bags and save them from the landfill, imagine what the whole community could be doing,” she concluded.