PITTSFIELD -- Go ahead, call them "Trash Talkers." They won't mind.

The new group of Herberg Middle School students call themselves the "Trash Talkers," because that's their role -- to talk about trash and how people can reduce, reuse and recycle it, and even make a little money by selling it.

The students are part of an after-school program at Herberg called "Green in the Middle," which is funded by the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant awarded to the school this academic year. The 21st Century programs are coordinated by Meagan Ireland. The Green in the Middle program is currently led by Herberg Middle School social studies teacher Jen Jaehnig.

Sixth-grader Dairis Brignoni said she decided to join the new organization because, "It's kind of our way of helping the world. When we reuse paper, we won't have to cut down as many trees, and hurt the homes of animals."

This fall, the "Trash Talkers" watched a conservation video called "How the Waste Was Won" and organized recycling drives in the school. According to their latest data, the school has saved the equivalent of 71 trees since it began its recycling efforts.

Students also researched projects and crafts they could do with recycled materials. They learned how to make paper, felt scrap ornaments, fireplace logs, ornamental twig stars, pot holders and bells from egg cartons, among other projects. They then sold the crafts to Herberg staff members.

Their efforts raised $105.50. In turn, they worked with Mark Puza, manager of the Merrill Road Stop & Shop supermarket, to purchase 100 reusuable shopping totes from the store. The store donated an additional 50 bags.

Puza said this project was "a little different" than how the store typically partners with local schools. "It's good to see those children so involved with recycling," he said. "You could definitely tell they put a lot into [the effort]," he said.

On Wednesday, eight students, chaperoned by two teachers, stood at each store entrance and gave away the bags to store patrons for free, as their way of encouraging people to practice recycling, reuse and waste reduction.

Some customers gladly took them and even donated a few dollars back to the group. Other customers declined. Still others were just in shock that they were actually getting something for free.

"I think it's wonderful and that they are educating people too," said one female shopper.

Sixth-graders Brignoni, India Hankey and Paige Larmore, seventh-grader Evan Pavlick, and eighth-grader Kendra Ramos stood at one entrance with Jaehnig and gave away bags and also showed a slide show on a laptop detailing facts about recycling and the students' recycling efforts.

At the other entrance, sixth-grader Madeline Cook and seventh-graders Anaziah Williamson and Jazmin Porter, along with teacher Lisa Robinson, talked with patrons about the crafts they made while they gave out bags.

"It's fun to recycle," Williamson said.

"It's also crafty," Cook said. "People could make their holiday crafts and know they're doing something for recycling."

"They can use things they have instead of going to the store," Porter said.

"Teaching our children how to ask older people to help in making better environmental choices and decisions is difficult," Jaehnig said. "Ultimately though, we need to find ways for them to be the next stewards of our city, county, and world."

To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239.
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink