HES Moves Closer to "Bronze" with Waste Audit

Highlands Elementary School Kicks off Sustainable Jersey for Schools Program and Holds Waste Audit with Mr. Gary Sondermeyer, Vice President of Bayshore Recycling Corp.
Posted on 11/15/2016
Gary Sondermeyer addresses the student body prior to the dumping of trash on the Gym floor.  (Photo Credit: Cynthia Fair, 2016)

Highlands Elementary School, located in Highlands, NJ, is a Pre-K through 6th grade elementary school with 193 students. After feeling the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy, Highlands Elementary School (HES) sought out the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program to become more environmentally conscious and use these tools to educate their students – in a very hands-on way. Principal Rosemary Schutz said of the program, “The future of the ecosystem depends on our youth knowing how their choices will impact it. The more they know about recycling and sustaining the ecosystem the better their world will be in the future.

Sustainable Jersey for Schools is a certification program for New Jersey public schools that want to “go green”, conserve resources and take steps to create a brighter future, one school at a time. Launched in fall 2014, they are a nonprofit organization that provides tools, training and financial incentives to support and reward schools as they pursue sustainability programs.

The first step for HES was to adopt a resolution of participation and register with the program. Then the school formed a Green Team. This team would be responsible for identifying areas where the school can receive their 150 points toward certification as well as shepherding the process to ensure the school meets their goals. Once the Green Team was in place, they then moved on to their Waste Audit, which was performed on November 2nd. The purpose of the Waste Audit was to identify the amount of true waste in the trash collected daily and to determine how much could be recycled as well as how much recycling re-education was needed to enhance reduction efforts going forwards. This activity was but one in a list of agenda items the school is embracing to attain their Bronze Certification with Sustainable Jersey for Schools.  

Members of the Board of Education, Dr. Susan Compton and Principal Rosemary Schutz, welcomed Mr. Gary Sondermeyer, Vice President of Bayshore Recycling Corp. to perform the Waste Audit of the materials generated in a typical school day. “Having Gary Sondermeyer on site to help the kids perform this waste audit was truly a blessing!” declared Board President Cynthia Fair.  “We are fortunate to have his expertise for this hand-on exercise to determine our initial recycling rate.”  

Mr. Sondermeyer had the children dump all the trash that had been collected over the course of a single day to determine the amount of recyclable material within the garbage.  After weighing the trash, paper, plastic, glass and aluminum was removed and then the true “waste” was weighed again.   Next came the recycling.  After this material was dumped and the contaminants removed, they determined that HES had a recycling rate of 28%.   The school did very well, but they made the commitment to do better - aiming for at least a 50% rate by spring, when they will repeat the waste audit and document their progress.  Principal Rosemary Schutz led the students and staff in sorting and digging through the trash on the gym floor. She was truly amazed at the amount of paper and plastic water bottles that were mixed in with the trash.  A true leader in recycling, Mrs. Schutz and her staff had already spearheaded several campaigns to take non-mandated materials from the waste stream and send it off for recycling.  The school recycles plastic shopping bags that go to the TREX Company to be made into decking and planters thanks to the efforts of Mrs. David, the 6th grade educator.  The PTO also collects toner and ink cartridge for recycling, which generates revenue back to programs to support the children in education.  Mrs. McLaughlin, the Art teacher, collects plastic bottle caps to use in “Recycled” art projects.  

Following the Waste Audit, the Green Team members met in the Media Center to go over their initiatives to submit to Sustainable Jersey for School for a Bronze Level certification.  Parent and community resident, Karen Britton was chosen to lead the team.  Members attending included two staff teachers, Mrs. Emily David, Mrs.Golembieski; Administrators, Dr. Susan Compton, Principal Rosemary Schutz, Administrative Assistants, Ralph Barth and Amy Elia;  School Nurse, Colleen Hanson;  Council President Carolyn Broullon, and Director of Public Works, Louis Bader.  Board of Education members:  Cynthia Fair, Diane Knox and Nancy Messina.  

The actions identified at the Green Team meeting will be worked on throughout the school year for submittal in June.  The certification process will take place over the summer and the school will be notified in October if they are successful in obtaining their goal of achieving a Bronze level certification. 

Dr. Susan Compton, Superintendent of Tri-District Schools explains why this program is not only about recycling for the students, “As the superintendent of schools, I am so pleased that we are now a part of the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program.  The waste audit helps us to teach our students of their greater responsibility to the global community by seeing the importance of recycling in a real world setting. It also reinforces the connection to our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) program at HES; specifically, it aligns with areas of environmental and life sciences. By engaging students at this level, we hope to foster a life-long commitment to recycling and renewable resources which will greatly benefit both the school and the community for many, many years to come.  As we know, our youth is our future, and the choices they start making now will impact the next generation.  We are so appreciative in having our own board chair, Cynthia Fair, for all her hard work on this important project and Gary Sondermeyer of Bayshore Recycling, in conducting this waste audit for Highlands Elementary. We are also grateful for all the assistance and donations we receive from Bayshore Recycling Corporation and the support of their president, Valerie Montecalvo. They have been incredibly generous with us.”