Recycling Road Trip

a trip to see where school recycling goes

Through safety glasses, elementary students watched blasts of air separate a river of recyclables into streams of plastic and paper. “Did you see that?” one of the seniors said to the middle school students nearby, nodding his hard hat towards a passport passing by on the conveyor belt, shuffled into shards of cardboard. “Keep an eye out for your quizzes,” joked Jim Panzer, the sustainability curriculum integration leader for John Jay Middle and High Schools.

This was the view from deep inside City Carting & Recycling in Stamford, Connecticut, the destination for Katonah-Lewisboro Schools’ first ever Recycling Road Trip. A school bus of students—a few from each school—plus several educators, traveled the route the district’s recyclables take weekly to see what happens next.

supporting the district's goal of sustainability

The field trip was organized by the district’s Sustainability Committee with the goal of learning more about what and how to recycle. Not only did it equip students with first-hand information to share with their peers, the trip connected students from different schools and levels to each other and deepened the district’s goal of supporting sustainability. “I was thoroughly impressed with the whole tour,” said Panzer. “It was great to see the kids of all ages interacting so positively!”

recyclables are sorted, crushed, baled and sold

The tour of City Carting started in a meeting room. Melissa Brady, middle school teacher and sustainability curriculum integration leader for Katonah-Lewisboro’s elementary schools, arrived with a bag of items she called the “common conundrum,” including a gum wrapper, plastic fork, container top, water cooler cup, the sleeve that garlic comes in and a zip lock bag. Were they recyclable or not?

City Carting’s Operations Manager, Chris Hughes, went through the bag and provided answers, while fielding dozens of questions from the students including the history of recycling and the carbon footprint of the plant. In general, food wrappers and plastic bags are not recyclable, he said, while rigid plastic like container tops and cups are.

He explained that City Carting is a materials reclaiming facility, meaning that recyclables are sorted, crushed and baled there, then sold within a few days to buyers around the world to be made into different items.

From there, students followed Hughes into a factory-like setting to trace the journey of items that looked a lot like what went into the recycling bins at their own school.

sharing learning with their peers

Back on the bus, Clara and Scarlett, two fifth graders from Katonah Elementary, reflected on all of the steps each piece of recycling took at City Carting, including workers sorting it by hand. “It’s important to share this experience so we can make our schools more sustainable.”

Ava and Fiona, two fifth graders from Meadow Pond, had shot a lot of photos and video at City Carting. They were excited to make a video to share with their school.

“I thought we would see what was made out of the recycling,” said Sean, a fifth grader at Increase Miller Elementary. “I didn’t realize it got shipped somewhere else.”

“I didn’t realize how they made money,” said Cormac, a seventh grader at John Jay Middle School.

“You can’t take everyone on this trip, but we need to share what we learned with others,” said Lavi, a senior at John Jay High School.