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In-school campaign stresses health, savings

Schools switch to recyclable milk cartons

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POSTED: October 30, 2009 10:31 a.m.
Photo by Lauren Hunsberger/

Midway Middle School teacher Joy Kennedy, left, student Jasmine Newbold and Liberty County Solid Waste Director Dave Sapp build a statue out of recycled milk cartons Tuesday afternoon in preparation for their human and environmental health campaign.

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A life-size statue made of plastic milk bottles will soon tower over the entrance of Midway Middle School, which may remind students to drink more of milk. However, the “milk man” symbolizes more than good nutrition.
Made of recycled bottles, the sculpture, which sports a pair of yellow rain boots and a ball cap, also emphasizes the importance of taking care of the Earth while showing students that recycling can be fun.
“We’re making a green milk guy,” Jasmine Newbold said. She is a sixth-grader at Midway Middle and a member of the Builders Club, the group responsible for the design and construction of the model.
But, to school administrators and board of education members, who face a constantly shrinking budget, the plastic sculpture also represents $10,600 worth of savings for the school system.
With the creation of the milk man, Midway Middle students, teachers and administrators launched their schoolwide campaign for human and environmental health, which has produced more benefits than school officials expected.
A ton of recycling
Sara Swida, director of Keep Liberty County Beautiful, said after the school system made the decision earlier this year to switch from cardboard milk cartons (which aren’t recyclable) to plastic bottles, a group of community members gathered to tackle the task of recycling the thousands of plastic bottles students use across the system each day.
“It’s a pretty involved process when you’re talking about 10,000 or so bottles [a day],” Swida said.
To create a system, the group sought advice from Dave Sapp, director of Liberty County Solid Waste Management.
“The biggest problems I saw in the project were bottles that were partially filled with milk being sent to the recycling facility and then you have curdled milk all over the place,” Sapp said.
But he said the smell of old milk wasn’t the only problem. He figured out that because the cost of waste management for each school is determined by the weight of the waste, the schools were losing money because of the extra weight of the discarded liquid.
According to Sapp, the solution to all the problems was coming up with a way to rinse out the milk and eliminate the excess waste weight. Doing so would save the system about $10,600 a year if the project was adopted by all of the schools that had recycling capabilities — 11 of the 14 in the system.
“That’s the equivalent of one school’s waste per year” he said.
With the obvious benefits, Sapp got to work developing a specialized rack and rinse system that works with the current cafeteria setup, making the process easy.
“We put 49 bottles on the tray and tip it over, the milk is discharged as we tip it over and the bottles fall into the next rack. Then they run it through the rinse cycle, not the wash cycle, so we’re not using detergents, we’re not using hot water,” Sapp said. He added that the schools use a captured-water system so extra water is not needed.

A media event

Once the behind-the-scenes logistics were in place, the administrators got students involved and launched their “Got Milk Liberty” campaign. To teach the students about the benefits of promoting and marketing for a good cause, the campaign includes special milk mustache posters that hang on the walls outside the cafeterias.
“Some of them are actually doing blogs so there’s the social media aspect and they’ll also do some video for Teachertube, which is like Youtube but for teachers,” Swida said.
The students are also entering their campaign into the Lexus Challenge, a national competition designed to help get students involved in community projects for the betterment of the Earth.
Midway Middle and Joseph Martin Elementary are the only two schools using the system, but those who are working on the project hope that all the schools will soon jump on board.
 

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