Across elementary schools in Williamsburg and James City, Virginia, students are learning about recycling; specifically how to do it, and why it is important. Stonehouse Elementary has the students and staff recycle just about everything they can. Blayton Elementary School students add their leftover food waste from school lunches to a compost pile for the garden. Clara Byrd Baker students have collections of used tennis shoes to send to recycling centers.

“I think recycling is so important because it saves the Earth… We don’t have to waste anything,” William Hamblin, a fourth-grader at Stonehouse Elementary School. “I learned that we can recycle a lot more things than I thought. I thought it was just paper, but I didn’t know we could recycle juice pouches and other things.”

The goal is to teach the children good habits at a young age. Hopefully, they will use their knowledge throughout their school years and carry good habits through adulthood. The “Green Team” division leader for WJC schools compares the goal to making it a second nature, similar to the habit of putting on a seatbelt.

“You would never get in the car without putting your seat belt on. You’re (recycling) all throughout elementary school, and then you get to middle school and high school and you know it’s just what you want to do.”

For the most part, each of the schools is responsible for creating and implementing their own recycling programs. Every school has a “Green Team” leader to help them do so. A few of the schools recycle printer ink cartridges, and a few others collect used clothing materials. Both of these activities bring in revenue for the school.

All of the schools have a collection box for plastic bags, like the ones that are given out at grocery or department stores. The bags will eventually be turned into benches for parks and schools. The schools that participate in the collection of plastic bags have the opportunity to compete to win one of the benches. There is also cell phone and battery recycling, paper recycling, and document shredding that takes places at most of the schools.

Recycling in the cafeteria is a little trickier, because items that go into the recycling bins need to be clean and cannot be covered in food. The solution to this is having “Recycle Rangers” stand guard. Student leaders are appointed to watch over the recycling bins to help educate the other students, remind them what to do with their waste, and make sure everything goes smoothly.

At Norge, the custodians were throwing out 15 bags each day full of nothing but lunch trash. After the new systems were put into place, that number was cut down to five bags of trash, and down to two after the students began learning and using the new recycle techniques. The students must learn which items can go in the recycling bins so they don’t get mixed up. Once the bins get mixed up, they can’t be recycled and will go in the garbage.

The students are enjoying the recycling process and are learning a lot. At Stonehouse, students say recycling is actually fun. “It makes me feel good, since we’re not polluting,” fourth-grader Nolan Kline said.

“We can help our environment. If we recycle paper, we save trees,” added Sydney Pallister, a fifth-grader. provided grants to some of the schools to help with the funding of their recycling programs and activities. The schools did have to spend money to get the programs rolling, but they will break even, or even get money back with some of the revenue brought in by certain programs.