TNCS Has NexTrex Recycling Challenge in the Bag!

Logo_with_tagline3Environmental sustainability is a key message at The New Century School, and TNCS students in all divisions learn the importance of protecting our natural world as well as regularly engage in various initiatives that actively support it. Being “green” is part of our identity—just look at the school logo!

That’s why, when TNCS Parent Council member Tilly Gurman heard about the NexTrex school challenge, she immediately thought it was ideal for TNCS students to join and brought her idea to the committee and to TNCS administration in November. “I thought, what a great opportunity to combine our Earth Day activities with this challenge,” said Ms. Gurman. “Whether or not we win, it’s just also getting people involved and doing more recycling and thinking about all of the waste we generate. It bugs me that in my own household we generate all this waste that I know can’t be recycled, and it kills me to just put it in the trashcan every time. I do everything I can to avoid those ziplock kind of bags, but at least now they can be recycled with this challenge. I can now actually do something about all that stuff.”

Although TNCS initially had a “soft start” (November 15th, America Recycles Day) to get through the end of the year, now it’s time to swing into full gear!

NexTrex School Recycling Challenge

We’ll explain more about the company and how it works, but first, let’s explore the details of the school challenge itself and get the need-to-know info up front.

What Is the Challenge?

Screen Shot 2020-02-01 at 12.08.42 PMTNCS will compete in the NexTrex Recycling Challenge through April 15th. The challenge is simple: Gather plastic grocery bags, bread bags, ziplocs, bubble wraps, case overwraps, dry cleaning bags, and newspaper sleeves and bring them to TNCS to be recycled. Wait—those items aren’t recyclable, you’re thinking? Normally, no, but this program takes many such plastics that most recycling programs (including ours in Baltimore) do not take. NexTrex, on the other hand, turns them into decking material and outdoor furniture (more on that below).

This is probably a good spot to clarify what qualifies as recyclable for this program. Basically, it’s down to #2s and #4s. Also, download a handout here.

 

So, bring plastic packaging materials to add to the pile at TNCS—got it. Then what? TNCS students are all in and will take it from there. Each classroom has a collection bin and has implemented an individual system for next steps. But, basically, once that initial bin is full, they weigh it and combine it with other classrooms’ loads in one of three NexTrex bins set up around the school. TNCS Facilities Manager Mike Horvath, who is overseeing the operation to ensure compliance with the NexTrex rules, then takes the combined load to Harris Teeter on a monthly basis for an official weigh-in and tallying.

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To back up for a second, the enthusiasm with which TNCS students embraced this challenge is critical to its success. Children are especially sensitive to environmental issues, perhaps in part due to their still very intimate relationship with the outdoors. When they get wind of a way to protect it, every adult in their sphere is suddenly on notice! This is exactly why the NexTrex school challenge works, explains Ms. Gurman:

In my research on behavior change, we know that when children ask for acute action from their parents at home, they encourage that specific behavior change. We can put up all the posters we want around the school, but your kids at home saying, ‘Are you really going to throw that away, mom?’, will probably more effectively get your attention. When they get excited about a thing, they really push it. When I told my 2nd-grader that we were starting this at TNCS, he started looking at every piece of trash to identify whether it might be a 2 or a 4!

So, get the kids excited and check every single item that goes in the trash (kidding)—got it. Then what? Well, it is a competition, as mentioned. In our case, the competition is two tiered: TNCS is up against other mid-Atlantic schools (with comparable student body sizes), and we are also doing an intraschool competition—classroom à classroom! (Preprimary classes will combine as one class.)

benchFor the Mid-Atlantic contest, we could win very special prizes from NexTrex such as our very own park bench made from NexTrex recyclables! Due to TNCS’s small size and mixed-age classrooms, we are able to compete as an Elementary contender in the 0 to 350 student body category and will face off against other MD schools as well as schools in Washington, DC; Delaware; Kentucky; Ohio; Virginia; and West Virginia. Every school that participates gets an award.

For the TNCS class-to-class contest, prizes are to be announced. Go teams!

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In the meantime, every TNCS student gets a NexTrex magnet that’s not only fun (because it’s a magnet!) but also acts as a visual cue to remind us to recycle. Winners of both contest tiers will be announced on or around Earth Day!

And Now, About NexTrex

According to its website, the Virginia-based Trex Company, ” . . . [makes] Trex® eco-friendly composite decks from an innovative blend of 95% reclaimed wood and plastic film—that’s almost the whole thing. On top of that, [they use] some of the most earth-friendly manufacturing processes in the country, reclaiming factory waste and eliminating the use of harmful chemicals. Trex offers consumers a truly environmentally responsible choice.”

How Does Plastic Film Packaging Become Decking or Furniture?

Plastic film is near-ubiquitous in manufacturing for the convenience it offers in packaging and transporting of products that make their way to us consumers, but it’s certainly no good for the environment. Converting it to usable NexTrex materials (which are 95% recycled)  significantly lessens the environmental impact.

To Earth Day, and Beyond!

“My hope is that this kind of becomes a yearly thing,” said Ms. Gurman. Indeed! Even if we don’t win this year, a huge buzz has been generated, and we can hit the ground running on November 15, 2020. We can even start collecting before the next challenge officially kicks off! Either way, many pounds of would-be non-recyclable material has been diverted from landfills to do some good in and for the world. That’s a big win for Planet Earth and its resident Earthlings!


Note: Even after Earth Day and the NexTrex School Recycling Challenge has come and gone, the giving back doesn’t have to stop! We can continue to collect plastic film and bring it to a partner location. In Maryland, these include Food Lion, Giant Eagle, Giants, Harris Teeter, Kohl’s, Martins, Redner’s Markets, Safeway, Target, and Weis.

TNCS Elementary Talks Some Serious Trash!

. . . Litter-ally. Last month, Baltimore artist and activist Bridget Parlato, a.k.a., “the RecyQueen,” paid a visit to The New Century School at the invitation of TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali. Ms. Parlato gave a salient and illuminating two-pronged presentation on what trash does to Baltimore neighborhoods and waterways as well as how plastics harm the health of our global environment and the health of Earth’s inhabitants—including us.

Conservation Conversations

Ms. Parlato graciously shared select slides from her presentation to give Immersed readers an idea of what she teaches students. (Click the pause button on each slide to allow yourself time to read all of the alarming but critical facts.)

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Of the event, Ms. Danyali said, “The presentation was wonderful—eye-opening to the realities we face and inspirational.” A few days after the RecyQueen’s presentation, Ms. Danyali visited elementary classrooms to gauge their impressions of the “Trash Talk.”

The “circling” technique she uses in the videos below was detailed in TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices, and you can see it being used here in a novel way, that is, to give students the opportunity to share something they found surprising about the presentation and/or something they found to be inspirational.

It’s abundantly clear that Ms. Parlato’s presentation struck home with them, from the scary new oceanic feature called “gyres” (swirling vortexes of microplastics such as what is found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) to the physical harm and disfigurement done to aquatic animals who encounter plastic trash. The studnets began to grasp how vast the plastic problem is in terms of scale and of impact. The fact that plastic never breaks down but simply gets smaller and disperses more widely (and consequently does greater harm) was something that got them thinking about how to dispose less and re-use more. They learned about the dreaded bisphenol A (BPA) contained in plastics that disrupts the human endocrine system with downstream impairments in neurological, cardiovascular, reproductive, and metabolic systems. (By the way, the recent “BPA-free” label sported by many plastic products these days probably means very little—manufacturers have likely just substituted bisphenol S [BPS], the effects of which are as yet unknown.) These problems do not have quick fixes, which makes the RecyQueen’s crusade to educate children so important. It will take a concerted global effort to prevent further harm.

They learned some good news, too, in that a brilliant young inventor named Boyan Slat has engineered a machine to help rid the oceans of trash through his organization The Ocean Cleanup. And shout-outs were, of course, given to Baltimore’s own water-cleaning wonders Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel.

About the RecyQueen

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Merging her two vocations, Ms. Parlato uses art to convey her important messages about trash and sometimes even uses trash to make art. (And then there’s the royal recycled regalia she designed entirely out of would-be trash—bags and boxes held together by tape, paperclips, and string—that is not only thought-provoking but exquisitely beautiful as well.) She explained that RecyQueen and her community organization Baltimore Trash Talk (BTT) are “offshoots” of her career as a graphic designer/artist at her studio Full Circuit Studio. She also happens to really love nature, so finding ways to protect and preserve it come, well, naturally, to her. She describes how she brings all of these threads together, starting with discovering her inner artist:

Most of my family is creatively gifted in some way. My mother went to art school. My father was a woodshop teacher. However, it was a teacher I had both in grade school and high school that helped direct my life. She even scheduled my interview and loaded me into the car and took me to Alfred University where I got the last spot in my class. I have a BFA and an MFA in fine arts concentrating in graphic design and sculpture (ceramics) as well as minors in writing and literature.

The tools, programs and social media I use as a freelance designer are heavily used for Baltimore Trash Talk. I love the idea and concept end. My past experience in writing is utilized all the time—coming up with campaign themes and writing my own copy for posters and print materials. My MFA in sculpture (as well as past job experience in events) has helped when thinking through installations.

I am also a person who feels like we should always be growing and learning, so as often as time permits, I try new stuff.  I just won a small scholarship and a month of studio time at Baltimore Jewelry Center. It is pretty exciting to think of how I can apply what I am learning about metals to my previous training in sculpture.

One such installation, well known to many in Baltimore was the River of Recycling, which grew out of her keen belief that we should be throwing away less stuff, such as by encouraging “bottle bill legislation.”

I planned and executed two grant-funded bottle deposit events. All the items were assembled into a River of Recycling in Patterson Park and then taken to the recycling facility. The data from my events was used to support a bill that was being considered at the time. Sadly, it died.

But, the River of Recyclables went on to happen at JHU, Artscape, and Loyola University. The JHU River was a partnership with MICA grad Chris Beer for his curatorial thesis. His event was on a work day so drive-up item return was going to be low. We utilized can/bottle drives at area schools for our recyclables. In return, schools got a small stipend and a presentation. Waterfront Partnership/Leanna Wetmore provided the stipends, and I presented at the schools.

Pickups of trash are great but never ending. Hitting trash from top down (legislation) or bottom up (education) is going to have bigger impact. I have had my hands and head in the policy end and continue to do so. In fact, it is through support of bottle bill legislation that the RecyQueen program started. Bottle deposits exist in 10 states—a 5–10-cent deposit is paid on a can or bottle and received back when the bottle is returned.

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“Hey, Let’s Teach More Kids!”: Further Outreach

Ms. Parlato’s cause has so far been funded entirely by BGE, but she has to find more grant money to keep going and must reapply regularly (“keep your fingers crossed!” she urges). In the meantime, though, she is eager to get the word out in as many ways as possible to as many students as possible. “Learning about sustainable practices and how to battle litter and how to keep our water clean can happen in so many ways. Let’s partner,” she says. (Click Baltimore Trash Talk schools to learn what is covered during a BTT school presentation.)

She also is willing to meet students off campus for special tours, projects, trips, etc. She has “canoed and scooped” with students from Bard Early College, taken a trip to Annapolis to support policy with Western High School students, and acted as teacher/student guide to American Visionary Art Museum for a Loyola University STEAM project.

She is actively looking for schools, organizations, or clubs to present to throughout the summer and into the fall. Contact Ms. Parlato if you want a presentation!

She also attends festivals where she educates about litter or makes art out of litter—or both. Got a festival coming? Contact her!

“As a result of Baltimore Trash Talk,” she says, “my freelance work has really become far more cause-related. Purpose is good—not always lucrative, but rewarding in other ways. One particular project that would be really really useful to any of the readers is the Baltimore Clean City Guide. Please check it out—there are all sorts of good pointers in there, from reporting 311 issues to bulk trash to recycling and rat abatement quick guides.”

New Century School (2)In keeping with TNCS’s commitment to community and environmentally related service, Ms. Danyali hopes to welcome Ms. Parlato back soon to work with students: “I thank [the RecyQueen] for sharing her important vision and mission and hope to continue the conversation for possible initiatives with TNCS students before the school year ends,” she said. For her part, the RecyQueen also wants to stay connected with TNCS, saying “Presenting at TNCS was such a lovely experience. What a great school. It really was a great morning and I left feeling really happy. I would love to do something else with the school—let’s think about other projects!”

Don’t forget to like Baltimore Trash Talk on Facebook to see how Ms. Parlato tackles trash problems through political, artistic, and social engagement.

TNCS Wins Southeast Baltimore City Schools Recycling Competition!

This week, The New Century School elementary students had a very special visitor. Councilman Jim Kraft spoke to Ms. DuPrau’s and Ms. Roberts’s classes on December 16th and presented them with an official award as winners of the Southeast School’s 2013 Recycling Competition. Councilman Kraft was accompanied by Emily Sherman, a member of his City Hall office and a Shriver Peaceworker Fellow, and Robert Murrow, Baltimore City’s Recycling Coordinator (known to the kids as “Mr. Bob”). Ms. Sherman said that the contest’s goal is to “get students more aware of the impact of their recycling and also more aware of what can be recycled.” Surprisingly, many people still don’t know how easy—and how beneficial—it is to recycle, she reports.

Ms. Danyali introduces some very special guests and also opens the discussion about recycling.

Ms. Danyali introduces some very special guests and also opens the discussion about recycling.

Head of School Alicia Danyali began the presentation by asking students why recycling is important. Lots of kids gave great responses, but one boy’s answer, “So we don’t pollute the world,” kind of hit the nail on the head and is why the Councilman’s office targets schools. “We get to them while they’re young to instill healthy behavior, says Ms. Sherman. After a few more pithy yet adorable student responses, Ms. Danyali turned the floor over to the visitors.

It’s safe to say that Councilman Kraft really understood his audience. Dressed in Christmas-y hues with a holiday-patterned tie, he began by addressing the elephant in the room: “You guys don’t really want to hear what I have to say—you want to talk about Santa, don’t you?” Once the laughter and cheering subsided, Councilman Kraft had the audience in his palm. Well known for his pro-environment platform, Councilman Kraft has been holding this recycling contest for several years among his other green initiatives. (This was TNCS’s first year participating, but even as rookies, we held our own.)

Councilman Kraft presents Robert Murrow (a.k.a., "Mr. Bob") to a rapt audience.

Councilman Kraft presents Robert Murrow (a.k.a., “Mr. Bob”) to a rapt audience.

In fact, says Ms. Sherman, this year’s contest had the most participants to date. Going up against nine other areas schools, TNCS elementary students gathered recycling around the school into brown bags and reported to Ms. Danyali on a weekly basis, who, in turn, called City Hill with the week’s tally. She dubbed them her “Recycling Ambassadors,” and they competed not only against exponentially larger schools (with up to 700 students), but also against other students as old as age 18 years. (Note: Totals were assessed per capita rather than schoolwide to level the playing field for smaller schools such as TNCS.)

In their presentation, Councilman Kraft and “Mr. Bob” once again tapped into the kids’ seasonal excitement. “Santa Claus is the world’s biggest recycler,” said Mr. Bob. “We’re in constant contact,” he continued, “and we send out press releases to let everyone know that Christmas is a great time to recycle.” Wrapping paper, old electronics, styrofoam packing, cardboard, etc. can all be recycled, and it’s very important to remember to do so. Mr. Bob finished by asking the first-place winners to give themselves a big hand.

Councilman Kraft presents the award to a TNCS Recycling Ambassador.

Councilman Kraft presents the award to a TNCS Recycling Ambassador.

In addition to presenting a very official-looking certificate, Councilman Kraft also promised to donate several copies of The Lorax to TNCS’s library (the lorax also being very pro-environment—“[He] speaks for the trees.”). Best of all, the kids win a field trip to the Baltimore Aquarium plus lunch in early 2014.

The kids are brimful of questions about recycling . . . among other things.

The kids are brimful of questions about recycling . . . among other things.

As the City Hall delegation wound down their presentation, the kids had questions. Lots of questions. Including these directed to Mr. Bob: “Are you an elf? Will you show us your ears?” He was wearing green pants, after all. In all seriousness, though, Mr. Bob has helped make recycling a snap in Baltimore, which uses a single-stream method and requires no separating of recyclables into constituent materials.

TNCS elementary students have shown our community not only that recycling is so easy that anyone can do it but also that TNCS and Councilman Kraft fully support such environmentally sustaining practices. “TNCS was green to begin with,” said Ms. Sherman, “so this was icing on the cake!”

Update: On February 21st, the elementary students got their reward trip. See the delights!