Emmorton Elementary turns trash into cash

Emmorton Elementary is taking the old saying "one man's trash is another man's treasure" to a whole new level.

Since the beginning of the 2010 school year, the school on Tollgate Road has raised $8,000 by recycling everyday trash, such as chip bags, candy wrappers and juice pouches, through national program TerraCycle.

"Our kids are really excited about it," Emmorton's principal, Dr. Peter Carpenter, said. "It's an amazing program."

Carpenter originally heard about TerraCycle from his cousin and became intrigued.

The program, which reaches countries around the world, collects "hard-to-recycle waste," such as toothpaste tubes, coffee bags and yogurt containers, and gives back a few cents per item (two cents for candy wrappers) to the school that collected them.

This garbage is then turned into gold — bags, toys, household items and more.

Carpenter teamed up with Emmorton staff member Mary Ann Humphreys, who ran with it and got the program up and running at the school.

Labeled bins were set up in the cafeteria for kids to use after their lunch periods. Families send in items such as empty shampoo bottles and diaper containers. The school has even partnered with Dunkin' Donutsand Panera Bread shops in the area to collect used coffee bags.

"Things they would normally throw away, they give to us," Carpenter said.

These recyclables are put together in boxes — four to six on any given day, the principal noted — and shipped to TerraCycle. It's as simple as that.

The students have developed a recycling routine, Carpenter said. During one lunch period a kid went up to the principal, who just finished eating a bag of chips and was headed to his office, and told him the empty bag belongs in the TerraCycle bin.

"They're very aware of what goes into the trash and [what] should be recycled," he explained.

On top of the TerraCycle program, Emmorton also participates in traditional recycling — plastic and paper bags, bottles, etc. — and composts its trash through a commercial agency.

So what has the school done with the money earned from its recyclables? It's gone right back into the school, of course.

Carpenter explained that because of the TerraCycle rewards, Emmorton was able to have its trash composted and purchased technology as well as books for students.

Every month, the school also takes a percentage of what it has earned and donates those funds to a charity — typically ones that benefit children.

Not bad for something that would've been otherwise thrown away.

With the summer break swiftly approaching, the recycling will continue.

Carpenter said the school intends to have drive-by bins available for the community to drop off any recyclable items.

The program goes beyond just receiving money, though. Emmorton's students are given a valuable lesson each time they recycle.

"For me, it's teaching kids the concept of conservation in a very real and tangible way," Carpenter said. "They're seeing not just that they're reducing their carbon footprint, but the money they make off of it comes back to the school and they benefit from it."

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