PITTSFIELD -- One school's trash may not be another's treasure, but it still holds value.
Between the months of February and May, Annie Stilts, education and outreach EcoFellow for the Center for EcoTechnology, added Dumpster-diving to her repertoire.
Donning a white splash-proof jumpsuit and gloves and armed with a clipboard and pen, Stilts visited Pittsfield's eight public elementary schools and two middle schools twice during that time to audit and study each schools' trash.
The purpose of the study was to gain a better sense of what kind of trash was being output at the schools and how much of it could be recycled. Stilts enlisted the help of the custodians and cafeteria workers to monitor recycling and make sure waste was properly sorted.
"The audit was commissioned in part because we saw a change in volume -- an increase in trash coming out of schools, and we needed to figure out why," said Bruce Collingwood, city commissioner of public utilities and a member of the Pittsfield School Recycling Steering Committee.
This week, Stilts presented her final report to the members of the group.
The rate of recycling success varied by school, ranging from 14 to 50 percent of waste being made of recyclable materials but ending up in trash bins versus recyling bins.
The report showed an average of 71 percent of what goes into the combined schools' trash is non-recyclable but 29 percent of the materials -- like milk cartons, cans and paper -- could be diverted to recycling containers, which could, among other benefits, result in cost savings.
"Overall there is room for improvement to strengthen recycling efforts in Pittsfield schools, not only through student education, but through technical support for the faculty and staff," Stilts wrote in the report summary.
The study was funded through a $3,000 grant from the Springfield Materials Recycling Facility and its advisory board (MAB) and was supplemented by the city of Pittsfield. It paid in part for clear plastic garbage bags -- to help with the auditing, as well as for Stilts' time.
"I think this audit is great," said Pete Sondrini, the city's director of building maintenance, after the report presentation.
"It's just helpful seeing what the data is and how we're doing as far as the recycling goes," said Sylvana Bryan, school nutrition services director.
They, along with Collingwood, sit on the Pittsfield School Recycling Steering Committee along with Cynthia Grippaldi, education coordinator at CET; Jim Larrow, city director of custodial services; Tom Lennon of Republic Services (formerly BFI waste management); and Arlene Miller of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The group has been around since about 2008, but recycling education formally began in some schools in the early 2000s.
Still, some schools aren't fully compliant with recycling practices the committee recommends.
Over the summer, the group plans to share the report and individual school results with school staff as well as the new superintendent, Jason "Jake" McCandless.
"It's important that there be a presence there to support and sustain it from the top down" in terms of administration, said Larrow.
There is evidence of success in this. In 2012, for example, the schools achieved a 30 percent recycling rate which saved the city approximately $30,000 in waste disposal costs.
Each school also has a designated recycling "champion," a staff or faculty member who promotes waste reduction in the building.
The committee, however, agreed more work and more education could further benefit the schools and city across the board. Suggestions for further success include the creation of student leadership for recycling teams, instruction for students and adults about what can and cannot be recycled, and incentives to recycle.
"The good news is we are recycling, things are better than when we started," said Miller, "This report is a tremendous yardstick for where to reduce, where we are, and where we are going."
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