I once got into trouble during a talk at a school by suggesting that they should try to reduce the amount of stuff they recycled, and that cutting waste in the first place was a better project. It fell on deaf ears because of a conventional mindset which says I recycle and therefore I'm green / sustainable / doing my bit / living a moral life / etc..
I was reminded about this by a Keep America Beautiful competition called Recycle-Bowl, which is sponsored by Nestlé and its bottled waters. I saw all this in NAAEE's recent news update. It's wearily predictable:
The 2012 Keep American Beautiful Recycle-Bowl challenges K-12 students to collect as much recyclable material as they can over a four-week period for the chance for their school to win a $1,000 prize. A national champion will be selected as well.
At least they don't have to make a collage, I thought, and wrote to Keep AB suggest a parallel competition to find the school most adept at cutting its waste at source. This is their response:
Thank you for your email. I’m glad you’ve been on the website. I’m not sure of the UK’s K-12 school recycling status but in the US not all schools are recycling. It is not a law (federally or even in most states), it is not a municipally provided service and many schools can’t even afford educational resources like books.
We hope at some point in the future to grow the program (this is only its second year) and help quantify not only recycling but waste reduction. However, that requires much more work on the part of the school. Not only do they have to track and report recyclables, they have to track and report their waste. This will many times be a barrier for schools to participate in that portion of the contest. Many schools in the US don’t recycle at all. In rural and less populated areas, teachers, parents and students haul recyclables to a drop-off, a collection service is not offered. I would like the competition to focus just on recycling (for now) to help bridge that gap and get more schools recycling than do now and then bite-off a bigger piece of the apple in year 4 or 5 to do waste reduction. We are looking to pilot the waste reduction piece in an AZ community this year. We know the town provides both the recycling and waste collection service and should have good data.
Our sister program, RecycleMania, for colleges and universities has been in operation for around 8 years. They did ultimately build in a waste reduction component. We’ll get there eventually.
Thanks again for your input.