CORVALLIS – Science teacher Tracy Dickerson’s ecology class at Corvallis High School isn’t just about classroom lessons and theory. She believes in hands-on learning, and as part of that her students have launched a comprehensive recycling program that not only saves recyclables from going to the landfill, but also saves the Corvallis School District money.

Dickerson had been informally recycling what she could from the high school, hauling it down to the Ravalli County Recycling station on her own on Saturday mornings, and her own good example is part of what inspired the kids to take on and expand the project.

Jim Bowen, maintenance director at Corvallis, worked with Doug Soehren of Ravalli County Recycling (RCR) to obtain a fleet of 95-gallon, wheeled containers, in a distinct shade of blue that identifies them as for recyclables, not trash.

Better still, RCR now picks up the recyclables, saving Dickerson the trip.

Bowen, who paid for the containers out of his maintenance budget, said that he expects the program will quickly pay back that investment via savings in the number of dumpsters they pay Bitterroot Disposal to pick up, and in overage charges.

“It benefits everyone in the school,” he asserted.

The kids are excited about the program. “It’s not every day in class you get to feel like you’re benefitting the whole school,” said student Annie Sangster.

Classmates Mellisa Clark, Hannah Capko, and Amanda Yetter, chimed in: “It’s fun to do the collection!”

“People get the ‘why’ – we can make this the ‘Green Valley!’ ”

“Plastics are harmful to the environment.”

That last point is something that Dickerson emphasizes, pointing out that plastics are made from petroleum, and that a third of all plastic produced goes into single-use plastic bottles. Plastic persists in the environment for a very long time, and not all of it finds its way into landfills — Greenpeace estimates that 10 percent of all plastics produced annually end up in the ocean, including a “trash vortex” the size of Texas in the northern Pacific ocean.

The plastics are harmful to creatures as small as plankton, and as large as sea turtles and dolphins, the students explained.

Aluminum and glass can be recycled endless times, Dickerson pointed out, but plastic can only be recycled once.

The class learns about the economic as well as the ecological implications of what we use and how we dispose of it, and they take it to heart. Sangster said that she and other students now carry their own reusable water bottles, rather than using single-use bottles. They ask for paper bags at the grocery store, since paper comes from a renewable resource, and breaks down quickly.

“I can see the enthusiasm in the kids, that they know and understand the importance of recycling, and feel good about doing this outreach in our own school,” Dickerson said. Some students are even bringing recyclables from home to add to the collection.

The recyclers at CHS place bins in each classroom to collect scrap paper, newspaper, magazines, recyclable plastics (those with the number “1” or “2” stamped or printed on them), aluminum, and “office mix,” assorted paper products. They’ve also engaged the cafeteria to separate steel cans, cardboard boxes, and other recyclables. The students collect the bins every two weeks, and sort them into the new larger containers, checking each load to make sure that it’s not “contaminated” with non-recyclable trash, or mis-sorted items.

Though it’s tough to say exactly how much they’re collecting, Dickerson estimates that “we’re probably getting at least 80 percent” of recyclables that are discarded, at least in the high school.

They’ve expanded their efforts to include the primary and middle schools, initially for paper products, and hope to augment their efforts on those campuses soon.

Adding yet another dimension to the program, the students are preparing to make presentations to other valley schools, to encourage them to start their own comprehensive recycling programs.

Some schools already have limited recycling efforts in place, and Victor schools signed up for RCR’s curbside cardboard pickup service last year, according to Soehren. Many individual teachers take it upon themselves to collect paper and other recyclables from their own classrooms, and deliver it to the RCR facility, as Dickerson used to do.

“Tracy does an excellent job of getting the kids invested,” Bowen observed, highlighting the value of the program to the students as well as to the district.

“I’d like to see it continue to grow. I’m excited to see how much I can reduce our budget.”

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