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Waste audit at Pullen Elementary in Mount Pleasant.

Starting a cycle of responsibility

CMU partners with schools and county to make waste recycling a lifelong habit

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston

It’s not easy to retrain adults who have thrown their paper and plastic in the garbage for years.

What if recycling advocates didn’t have to?

That’s the “Eureka!” moment behind Central Michigan University’s new partnership with Mount Pleasant Public Schools and Isabella County: Teach children to recycle, and soon enough they’ll grow to be adults ingrained in the habit. And if in the meantime some of those children convert their parents to recycling, that’s a bonus.

“You want to start to normalize the practice,” said Tom Rohrer, director of CMU’s Great Lakes Institute for Sustainable Systems and associate director of the School of Public Service and Global Citizenship in the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences.

"This is one of those opportunities that the more we put into it, the more we get out of it." — Jay Kahn

Rohrer is coordinating the project, called “Recycling Is Elementary,” with Jay Kahn, director of CMU Facilities Operations; Jake Borton, director of the Isabella County Materials Recovery Facility; and Jennifer Verleger, superintendent of the Mount Pleasant school district.

Kahn also has CMU students working on the project, which spans all five Mount Pleasant elementary buildings.

“This is one of those opportunities that the more we put into it, the more we get out of it,” Kahn said.

The program places large and small recycling containers for paper, cardboard, glass and plastic in school buildings and classrooms, and reinforces the importance of recycling with pamphlets, posters and competition to see which schools can recycle the most. The county recycling facility will collect, sort and sell the material.

The project moved past the idea stage in March, when grad student Morgan Hummon applied for a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality grant on behalf of the recycling facility. The DEQ authorized $3,675, with a small county match.

“They said they liked our idea but could only afford to support us at this small level,” Rohrer said. “We said it’ll get us started. This is an important enough mission. What’s a small thing we could do?”

Waste audits at each school — with Kahn, Borton and CMU junior Chase Delor, senior Cooper Klein and graduate student Kunal Vaishnav sorting and measuring different types of trash — are launching the program for the school year and providing a baseline to measure progress.

cut-2017-399-43 Recycling is Elementary Jay Kahn sj.jpg

From left, Jay Kahn of CMU Facilities Operations, information systems graduate student Kunal Vaishnav and Jake Borton of the Isabella County Materials Recovery Facility measure waste at Pullen Elementary School in Mount Pleasant to kick off the Recycling Is Elementary program.

Rohrer said he hopes Recycling Is Elementary will win recognition from the statewide Governor’s Recycling Council established by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2014.

Organizers will apply for additional funding for future years of the program.

“This grant helps us advance that mission of creating engaged citizens,” he said. “It’s a fun project for us to be involved in.”

Verleger, the school district superintendent, agrees.

“We are grateful to be a part of this partnership with Central Michigan University,” she said. "The Recycling Is Elementary program has re-energized our recycling efforts at our elementary buildings.

“In the long run, we hope this program will create lifelong habits for our youngest students.”

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