Elementary Effort


The True Story of an Elementary School in Maryland

2.81 million juice pouches are sold every year, most of which are being thrown away half full. That’s a lot of aluminum being wasted, and a lot of your money. Terracycle is a small company that is repurposing items that are usually not recyclable, such as juice pouches. They were collecting juice pouches from our elementary school, but, sadly, a few months ago Terracycle ran into a budget issue and 60 schools in the United States were dropped from their upcycling* program.

Atholton Elementary, in Columbia, MD was one of those schools. That is my school. We had to come up with a way to reduce the number of juice pouches we were throwing away without relying on some other program.

*Quote from Terracycle.com
“The key difference between upcycling and reusing waste is that with upcycling the original intention of the object changes. TerraCycle works with many of the world’s best companies to bring upcycling solutions to many forms of waste. We sew juice pouches together into backpacks, chip bags into casual shoes, and even granola wrappers into shower curtains. Many of these products are available to buy in major retailers around the world as well as online.”

Our Gifted & Talented (G/T) resource teacher, Lisa Young, invited me to be part of a group of fifth graders that she named “The Green Ambassadors.” The Green Ambassadors’ role was to work with and help Mrs. Young by setting an example for and providing information to other students about being environmentally friendly. The Ambassadors felt horribly about this turn of events, for juice pouches were the most common drink at our school.

So we created a program that would encourage the grades to compete with each other to see which grade could reduce the most number of juice boxes and then that whole grade would get a prize, like a movie or popcorn.

The Green Ambassadors came up with the idea of bringing re-usable containers. To inspire the other students we made up a song and sang it to the whole school during morning announcements. We made videos and movies and put posters around the school. We tried to make the experience fun and enjoyable by saying things like, “What’s hot and what’s not?” Juice pouch-NOT…Recyle HOT!”

Then we checked to see how we were doing. Teachers and parents helped to count and there was a huge decrease in the number of juice pouches at school. We think that at one point there were about 75 percent fewer juice boxes at school. Now a lot of people have re-usable juice bottles strapped to their back-packs.

Even before being a Green Ambassador I felt better when I recycled. I learned from my mom and other parents who encourage recycling.

And it’s not that hard. As one friend said. “I just asked my parents to stop buying those juice boxes.”

And it really improved our green school title. (maeoe.org/green-schools/)

There is a big process to becoming a green school. You have to get it and then renew it! This was a big bump to our green school title.

This inspired me to follow Atholton’s example and come up with creative ideas to reduce my own juice pouch consumption. This doesn’t mean that my solution has to be the next Terracycle, just something to help raise awareness. My hope is that in the future our country will embrace and support companies like Terracycle so schools like Atholton won’t have to be cut from other innovative recycling programs.