George Mason Recycling Initiative

The George Mason Elementary School Recycling Initiative is an effort to create a recycling model for all Richmond Public Schools.  The George Mason Chapter of the RVA Green Team was named 1st Place winner of the Sierra Club Falls of the James Group’s Recycling Breakthrough Contest, which included a $1,000 prize for the GME Green Team.  Below is a link to a 5 minute video created as a part of the contest and the narrative that was submitted.

Recycling Breakthrough Contest Narrative

In the 2011/2012 school year, Rick Tatnall of Replenish Richmond and Dan Case, Communities in Schools Site Coordinator for George Mason Elementary School, started collaborating in an effort to bring gardens, recycling and environmental stewardship to the George Mason community – students and their families, teachers, staff members and volunteers.  Replenish Richmond has developed a program called the RVA Green Team and the goal of the collaboration was to establish the first official Chapter of the RVA Green Team at George Mason Elementary (GME).  Starting in September of 2012 Mr. Case was elevated from a part-time to a full time position at GME which allowed for the time to develop the framework for a new club at the school.  A new TFC recycling dumpster and the FOJG Recycling Breakthrough contest came along at the same time and it was determined that the contest could significantly support the process of developing the new RVA Green Team Chapter.  Mr. Tatnall and Mr. Case met with GME Principal Sandra Bynum to discuss all of these ideas and she enthusiastically supported the plans.

In September 2012, the GME Recycling Initiative called “Think before you throw it away” was commenced.  The mission of this initiative is to change the reduce, reuse, and recycle awareness of the students, teachers and staff of George Mason Elementary School through a 0 to 100% recycling effort within the school which will lead to a 100% recycling effort in the homes of the GME community members.  Since GME had not been recycling previously, going from 0% to 100% was technically achievable, and since a major goal of the GME initiative is to act as a model for other Richmond Public Schools, it is important to try to ultimately achieve 100%.  As we summarize our efforts for the Recycling Breakthrough Contest, we are proud to say that we are well on our way to the 100% goal and have a plan to do just that.  Below please find a timeline summary of our efforts since September:

October 2012 – GME Teachers were asked to nominate students to be a part of the 1st RVA Green Team Chapter and twenty-one (21) 3rd, 4th and 5th graders were chosen.  Parents were informed and all agreed to their children’s participation.  In addition, several teachers agreed to support the development of the new club, including science and art teachers.

October/November 2012 – Meetings were held with all aspects of the GME staff to gain their support and determine the logistics of our plans.  Separate discussions were held with the administrative staff, custodial staff and cafeteria staff.  A meeting was also held with James Oliver, Director of RPS Plant Operations, to discuss the program as a model for other RPS schools.  We also met with various organizations involved in recycling in Richmond, including Central VA Waste Management Authority, the VA Recycling Association, and TFC Recycling, the region’s curbside pick-up company and the provider of the recycling dumpsters at all RPS schools.  In an effort to promote the “reuse” concept of the RVA Green Team, case paper boxes were reused as recycling boxes and over 100 boxes were collected by Replenish Richmond and several community partners.  Volunteers wrapped enough of these boxes in green paper so that one of each could be placed in every classroom.  When the RVA Green Team collects the recycling from the boxes they separate the items that go into the recycling dumpster from the items that must be handled in a different manner – items like batteries, lightbulbs and toner cartridges.

November 15, 2012 – On America Recycles Day the RVA Green Team had an afternoon assembly for students and teachers that introduced everyone to the GME Recycling Initiative and the RVA Green Team Members.  Also introduced was the Recycling is Magic Contest which would reward GME families if they recycled at home.  Many community and recycling partners attended the assembly as well, including 7th District School Board member Donald Coleman, who offered his assistance to the efforts for GME to be a model for other schools in the East End and across RPS.

December 2012 – The GME Chapter of the RVA Green Team established and tested a scheduled pickup of recycling in both the school and at the homes of more than 50 GME families.  Based on that experience, we have developed the following plans for both in-school and at-home recycling in 2013 and beyond.

In-School Recycling

The ultimate goal of the GME In-School Recycling Initiative is to literally recycle 100% of all recyclable waste produced at George Mason Elementary and we have a plan in place to ultimately accomplish just that.  A huge step was taken in December as recycling boxes were placed in every classroom and a schedule for recycling pickup was created with RVA Green Team members doing the pick-ups.  Starting 1-2-13, RVA Green Team members will perform a daily recycling pickup in the morning from 8:45 to 9:00am.  Teachers are asked to place their recycling boxes outside their classrooms whenever they are full and they will be emptied and left outside the classroom door.  The GME Green Team has acquired 2 rolling waste containers which have been painted green and are used for efficient recycling collection.  Teachers are asked to contact Mr. Case for assistance from the Green Team with unusual recycling requests.

  • Cafeteria Recycling – The biggest hurdle to the GME 100% recycling goal for the school is the waste created in the cafeteria related to the daily meals served to students.  The cafeteria staff has been informed about the recycling initiative and has been very helpful in diverting a significant amount of waste from the trash dumpsters to the recycling dumpsters, especially cardboard and steel cans.  We also performed a “dumpster dive” in December and pulled out bags and bags of waste to examine their contents.  We found that the vast majority of the waste was related to the student meals and considerable space used in the dumpsters was directly related to the foam trays.   In response to these findings, the next big effort will be to change the way that students dispose of their foam trays and related waste from their in-school meals.  Plans are being devised to create an ordered disposal process where foam trays are placed in one waste container, milk and juice boxes in another, chips bags in another, and uneaten food in another.  It is expected that the student members of the RVA Green Team will have a positive influence on how the overall GME student body adapts to the new cafeteria rules.  Ultimately the GME Recycling Initiative will achieve the 100% goal when these food scraps are collected and composted to be used to support the health of the GME courtyard vegetable and flower gardens.

At-Home Recycling

We have many goals for the GME At-Home Recycling Initiative, especially inspiring families to recycle everything they can at home.  In the process of setting up our in-home recycling pick-up route we realized that most of the families who have students at GME do not have any form of recycling service available to them.  Therefore, in 2013 one of our goals is to influence the landlords of most GME students – RRHA (Mosby), Oliver Crossing, Jefferson Townhomes and George Mason Apartments – to offer a regular recycling service to their tenants, which they currently do not.  Since we knew that people will not recycle if it is difficult and inconvenient, the GME in-home recycling initiative made it real easy for families that are willing to recycle to do just that.  For 6 consecutive weeks in December and January Mr. Tatnall and Mr. Case made door to door recycling pickups from more than 50 different GME families involving about 70 students, including several families living in each of the housing communities listed above.  Plans are to continue the in-home recycling efforts through January and then transition each family to either the curbside pick-up program or to new recycling dumpsters in their community.  TFC Recycling has offered very aggressive pricing for these dumpsters and the RVA Green Team, in conjunction with the GME families that live there, will meet with the management of Jefferson Townhomes, Oliver Crossing and George Mason Apartments to convince them to offer recycling to their tenants.

Recycling is Magic

We believe that recycling is a lot like magic and the GME Recycling Initiative has developed a distinct marketing plan for 2013 that intends to engage a growing number of East Enders in the magic of recycling.  Recycling is Magic is a collaboration between Replenish Richmond and Richmond area magicians who are assisting our efforts by infusing recycling into their magic acts and offering their magic to help inspire greater recycling by all Richmonders.  Our first Recycling is Magic event was held on January 12th as a thank you to all of the GME families that recycled at home during December.  Additional magic shows are planned for the future, both at GME and throughout the community, and magic will be used to inspire and reward people for their recycling efforts.

Great American Can Round-Up

As a part of the GME Recycling Initiative, the school is entered in the Great American Can Round Up which involves collecting aluminum cans from last Nov. 15th thru Earth Day on April 22nd.  Our goal is to be the leading school in Virginia and we also have our eyes set on trying to be the leading school in the nation.  As a part of their support for the GME Recycling Initiative, East End community recycling partners are specifically asked to collect cans for GME through April.  The RVA Green team will work with each entity to facilitate the collection process.

GME RVA Green Team as a Model

Everything we are doing in developing the RVA Green Team and the recycling initiative at George Mason is intended to be a model for other schools and organizations, in the East End and across the Richmond region.  We are in the process of establishing the RVA Green Team as a formal club in the school with a defined meeting schedule and other specifics, including expectations and incentives for students and teachers involved.  All of our efforts have been documented and detailed so that they can be replicated anywhere.  Communities in Schools of Richmond is intended to be a major partner in this replication process and has been kept apprised of all of our efforts.  Equally important has been the support and involvement of Donald Coleman, Vice-Chair of the Richmond School Board, who has helped guide the process so that the entire RPS system can benefit from the efforts at GME.