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The labels are key.
Green for recycling, black for trash and red for organics, such as leftover food.
Combining that with the enthusiasm of students and school staff members, and a bit of guidance from Dakota County, a group of south-metro schools has increased recycling by 47 percent this year.
Now, the county is looking to spread the project beyond the pilot group of schools in West St. Paul, Mendota Heights, Eagan and Farmington. Next year, the Enhanced Recycling Program will expand across the Farmington school district.
"It was very successful," said Lori Frekot, an environmental initiatives supervisor with Dakota County. "We had an overwhelming response."
Forty-two schools across six districts had applied for the expansion in 2010-2011. And others around the state are starting to take notice now that Dakota County's program has been highlighted as a model.
"We tried to make it really easy for people to replicate," Frekot said, noting that counties can get recycling bins cheaper than schools can through state purchasing contracts.
Counties get involved with school recycling because state law puts them in charge of waste management.
Under Dakota County's plan, the county buys recycling bins for the schools and works with a committee of students and employees to label and place them around the building.
It will cost about $30,000 to outfit all the Farmington schools with bins for the 2010-11 school year.
Then, students and staff need to get their peers to pitch in.
"It's really eye-opening for them," said Marianne Feely, who works with Farmington Community Education and advises the high school's Community Youth Development Group, which participated in the recycling pilot project at Farmington High School.
Her group of 15 to 20 students in grades 9 through 12 had the pleasure of sorting through an entire day's worth of school trash at the beginning of the school year.
"They really learned a lot by doing the actual recycle sort, digging through all of the garbage," Feely said.
They saw that some students recycled bottles but didn't empty them first. Sometimes people put things in the wrong bins. And they began to wonder if there were ways to reduce waste altogether, Feely said.
They recruited other student groups to help, put out more recycling bins, added more labels, and even put an encouraging note in football game programs.
The students will dig through the garbage again in April to see how their efforts have paid off.
"They can wrap their arms around what this looks like in one day at our school," Feely said.
At other schools, Frekot said, the efforts have prompted administrators to downsize the large garbage bins outside because the volume of trash decreased.
"The level of enthusiasm surprised us," she said. "If they have an active student group that's excited and wants to take this on, it works really well."
Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056