Schools considering recycling program

COVINGTON - Students in the Newton County School System may have to spend a little more time at the trash can after eating lunch if the schools decide to implement a food tray recycling program.

Newton County Board of Education members and school system employees are looking at participating in a program to recycle Styrofoam lunch trays into other "new" products.

"For years, we've had teachers and even students express concerns" about more ways to recycle, said Connie Waller, executive director of Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful during a presentation to board members at their last board meeting. "Students especially are so aware that everything is so 'green' now."

Officials at NCSS visited Gwinnett County Public Schools to gather more information about a recycling program schools there are using with Evergreen Partnering Group, which has saved the school system money they would otherwise use on landfill costs, trash pick up and more dumpsters.

"It blew us away when we saw what Gwinnett County did," Newton County BOE member Cathy Dobbs said. "That's a lot of Styrofoam otherwise going into the landfill every day."

According to a video prepared by GCPS and presented by Waller, schools can use a variety of methods to get trays clean and then stack them in a separate bag to later be picked up.

In the video, students and school staff are seen dumping the items on their trays into one trash can and then placing the trays in a neat stack in a separate trash bag attached to the trash can. School officials said about 500 trays can fit inside one trash bag.

Waller said she is confident students and school staff will cooperate with this program.

"If you have somebody there early on, this will become second nature to the students," she said. "We'll be glad to get any educational information that needs to go out."

Dobbs said it was encouraging to see more than 3,000 students at Grayson High School participating in the program and helping school officials clean trays and keep them in order.

After being bagged up at each school, the trays are taken to a central location and later picked up by Evergreen Partnering Group. Afterward, the trays are ground up and washed, creating polystyrene flakes and later resin taffy to form pellets used to make new products.

Waller said an option exists for NCSS to buy the pellets back to make new products for the school system.

"I think it's a win-win situation for all of us," she said.

Initial costs to the school system could be up to $73,000, but the program is said to save about $85,000 annually with regard to the 4 million trays used in NCSS every year, school officials said.

Newton County BOE member C.C. Bates said one elementary school even saved a school system some money when only students' breakfast trays were recycled.

Waller said the school system can go through the Newton County Board of Commissioners to start applying for grants this month and also can look into getting other partners to help with the project.

The Newton County School System has yet to announce any final decisions regarding the program.

According to an administrative services report, the school system also is looking into other methods of "green procurement" by having the purchasing department increasing the number of green products and services purchased.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.