With funding in short supply across Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, folks are looking everywhere for extra money. Bain Elementary School Art Teacher Carrie Vizzini has found a creative way to earn a little extra money for her school. Through the TerraCycle program, available to any nonprofit, she's turning school trash into cash.
Since Vizzini pioneered the program at Bain in August of 2009, the school has received almost $2,500 from empty juice pouches, cookie and chip bags, plastic sandwich bags, energy bar wrappers, empty pens and markers, and other items.
She got the idea after buying a carton of juice pouches for her four-year-old daughter, Mia.
"I saw the TerraCycle website on the side of the carton and I looked it up online. When I thought about all the recyclable items that our students throw away everyday, I knew it would be a great idea. We could keep all that trash out of the landfill and earn money for our school," said Vizzini.
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She piloted the program that fall collecting juice pouches for which the school earned 2 cents each. After lunch, students placed their juice pouches in a special bin in the cafeteria. Vizzini took the bin to her art room, squeezed each pouch dry, packaged them, and sent them in on a regular basis. The first check the school received went to purchase extra art supplies. Soon others got involved and the program grew. Kindergarten teacher Jackie Hribar helped her class decorate milk jugs for all the classrooms at the school so students would have a place to collect their worn out pens and markers.
Vizzini bought additional bins with some of the proceeds to help students separate the markers and pens from empty glue sticks and glue bottles. Baskets were purchased for each table in the cafeteria. At the end of each lunch, one student was assigned to collect all the recyclables from their class and separate them into juice pouch bins or wrapper bins. Plastic sandwich bags were added to the list.
The staff came up with incentives so when a student brought in 10 Terracycle items from home, they would be given a ticket to put in drawing for various Terracycle products including juice pouch lunch boxes, kites, and even a speaker set.
In October, Vizzini put out a call for volunteers in the school newsletter. Tara Mason and her three girls, first-grader Maggie, four-year-old Ella, and 18-month-old Langley, have been helping every Monday.The children separate the cookie pouches, chip bags, and plastic sandwich bags into different boxes so they can be sent to TerraCycle. Tara Mason said her girls tried to help with the juice pouches as well, but kept dumping them on each other's heads so they decided to stick to the dry recyclables.
Said Maggie Mason, "We do this because we want to help our school and we want to help Mrs. Vizzini. It also helps the earth."
Bain School Principal John LeGrand says the program has cut down on trash at the school and has really made an impact on the students.
"Our trash output has drastically decreased as we've reduced by about half what we throw away," said LeGrand."We believe strongly as a school that we need to teach our kids to be environmentally responsible. Before we started this initiative, recycling wasn't something our students paid much attention to while at school. Now our students really won't throw anything away that can be recycled and they hold each other accountable as well."
How much does it take to earn $2,500 from trash? Over the last two years Bain students have collected and redeemed 83,575 juice pouches; 27,555 plastic sandwich bags; 11,528 chip bags; 2,511 corks; 2,071 cookie wrappers; 1,710 energy bar wrappers; and 1,354 writing instruments.