By Michelle Feldman
Part of my job as the director of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful is to visit schools throughout the city to help foster the next generation of environmental heroes.
We're not alone in tackling this important work. My nonprofit, which is dedicated to fighting litter and promoting recycling, works closely in the schools with the city's Streets Department, Recyclebank, and other organizations large and small. And now, thanks to the leadership and dedication of the School District of Philadelphia, our job is about to get a whole lot easier.
This summer, the School District will release a sustainability plan, GreenFutures, which will work to embed the following values into school operations and culture:
As the first step toward implementing that roadmap to cleaner, healthier schools, the District will institute a system-wide recycling program in the fall. Every school will receive a recycling dumpster and additional physical infrastructure, as well as tools and resources to engage teachers, students, parents, and staff in making recycling a part of school culture.
The idea is to build on the city's residential recycling program, which has made great progress since Mayor Nutter took office in 2008: Philadelphia has seen a more than 100 percent increase in tonnage of materials recycled; the Streets Department, with the help of community partners, has distributed tens of thousands of recycling bins to residents in every neighborhood; and new materials, such as cartons, have been consistently added to the list of items accepted in blue bins.
The School District's efforts constitute another major step toward expanding recycling in Philadelphia and truly making us the greenest city in the nation — all while cutting costs.
Critically, this initiative also creates an opportunity to teach students about the larger meaning and various effects of recycling. This isn't just a way to divert waste from landfills — though of course that's important to the future of our environment. Recycling is also a means to talk about how we take care of and have pride in our community. And it leads to discussing a more expansive definition of sustainability, which includes preserving resources of all kinds (economic, social, and environmental) for future generations.
Just as important, as the students will soon learn, is that establishing a recycling program presents a tangible way for them to take on leadership roles, and for stakeholders at each individual school to work together and build community.
At Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, we couldn't be more excited and proud to help the District lay the groundwork for the recycling launch. But the District needs your help, too. Talk to the parents and students in your life about recycling and why it's important — and let them know that recycling is coming to a school near them.
And remember to visit philadelphiastreets.com/recycling regularly to stay informed about what is and isn't recyclable.