Denver Public Schools offers recycling, compost options in 170 locations

Students learn leadership skills as well as green skills

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You can add recycling to reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic to the Denver Public Schools curriculum after students returned to classrooms following the summer break.

The trash, recycling and composting programs continue to grow in number at DPS, with more than 170 schools participating in the first two activities and 42 schools into composting.

The DPS Office of Sustainability started to pay for the addition of composting programs at schools last year, and several have added such programs this academic year.

“Before that, the compostable bag liners and hauling fee was kind of prohibitive for some schools’ budgets,” said Brad Paterson, a program administrator for Denver Recycles who also manages hauling contracts for DPS.

The timing is good, given all the current news about environmental degradation.

“First and foremost, we’re teaching young students how to be responsible for their ways, and how to be stewards of the planet,” Paterson said.

“When a school adds composting in the cafeteria, we can see an increase in trash loads of 75%. All that food waste gets composted, lowering what goes into the landfill. And it helps make facilities managers’ jobs easier, as they’re not lifting heavy food bags anymore.”

Students have formed green team clubs at some schools, creating ways to improve the program, decrease contamination, teach others how to follow green practices and sometimes collecting recycled items from classrooms.

“You also see kids get really involved, get really excited about the programs,” said Paterson, who also teaches these practices in school classrooms and assemblies. “They start accepting leadership roles and volunteer opportunities — in general, good life skills.”

Paterson said the district is also encouraging students to take ownership of the progam, and engage with their fellow students. He’s also hopeful students will take what they learn to their homes.

Zack Thrower is a second-year social studies teacher at Compassion Road Academy, a DPS alternative high school with about 150 students in grades nine through 12 at 1000 Cherokee St. in the Golden Triangle.

He has resuscitated the academy’s recycling program, which previously proved unsuccessful. He faces ongoing challenges to involve more students, teach everyone to properly sort one’s recyclables and to place them in the correct bin.

“To me, it’s kind of criminal that we don’t educate the public on what is recyclable and not recyclable,” he said. He finds it’s a problem outside of school as well when he notices inappropriate items placed into recycling bins at an alley near his residence.

“This program opens your eyes,” Thrower said. “There’s ‘wish recycling,’ where people think things are recyclable that aren’t.”

For example, he found that students didn’t know that a standard plastic bag will jam the sorter that divides up recycled items.

Still, he finds that “people are pretty optimistic” about the program, wanting to believe “they’re throwing that plastic bottle or can in the recycling bin, and that it’s going to go on and live another life,” Thrower said.

“The alternative is to put everything in the trash. In 2019, I don’t think anybody feels good about that.”

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