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Written by Susan Weeks and Amy Dunkin

The Pelham school district is determined to reduce the volume of waste coming out of its lunchrooms and classrooms, and it is working with EcoPel, the Environmental Coalition of the Pelhams, to achieve that goal.

An alliance between the two groups formed last year when EcoPel set out to learn about the recycling practices in the public schools. An initial meeting between EcoPel President Sydney MacInnis, Superintendent Peter Giarrizzo, and Director of Facilities Anthony Mandile took place in June, and they have continued to get together regularly ever since.

Although Pelham began cardboard and paper recycling in the elementary schools in 1995 and moved to bottles and cans in 2000, the process has not always worked as well as it could have.

For example, students were inadvertently contaminating the contents of the recycling bins by tossing in bottles and cans that weren’t fully empty. To address the problem, in October the district put large red pails in all the lunchrooms so students could pour out their leftover liquids before disposing of the containers.

The district has also purchased enough bottle and can receptacles so every classroom and office has one alongside those for paper recycling and regular trash. Next up: making sure there are plenty of strategically-placed recycling cans on all playing fields and in outdoor spaces.

EcoPel is working with the administration to find other ways to minimize waste. In the next few weeks, they plan to launch a “Litterless Lunch” initiative with the elementary school PTAs to encourage parents to pack their children’s food in reusable containers instead of throwaway plastics.

Down the road, Giarrizzo may be looking to composting, along the lines of such districts as Scarsdale and Mamaroneck, which have set the precedent for successful school composting programs.

In November, for example, Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont introduced a Rocket Composter, purchased through a grant from the Mamaroneck Schools Foundation. The Rocket, which resembles an oil tank, is significantly reducing the volume of food waste from the cafeteria and generating compost for the school gardens.

The benefits of better recycling in the Pelham schools are twofold: It can help the district save on waste disposal costs by reducing the amount of garbage that must be hauled away by private contractors. And it supports Giarrizzo’s desire to make sustainability a community priority – a goal he expressed at the Dec. 8th Board of Education public session.

Sustainability means living in a way that preserves resources and otherwise minimizes our negative impact on the earth. The best way Pelhamites can impart the principles of sustainability to their children is by putting them into practice at home and in the schools.