School's recycling program wins award

This article submitted by Stephanie Everson on 05/27/97.

Lew Storkamp, building and grounds supervisor at the Paynesville Area School District, has played a mjor role in waste management. He recently received the 1997 Environmental Award from the Tri-County Solid Waste Management Commission for the schools recycling programs that reach above and beyond what is mandated by law.

Schools have been mandated to recycle certain items for the past four to five years, but the Paynesville schools have been recycling for seven years, and even more than what's required. "We didn't have to make any changes when the (state) mandated a recycling program," Storkamp said. "We'd been doing it all along."

Storkamp has involved everyone he can, including area businesses in the school's waste reduction program. "It's a community effort," he said. "Everyone has to get involved, not just the school district."

Several businesses became involved in the collective effort by donating large boxes for storing recyclables, as well as money to buy more containers. In addition, Coast-to-Coast accepts used fluorescent tubes and PJ's Appliance and TV provides appliance boxes for recycling bins.

The sixth grade students are responsible for collecting, crushing and redeeming aluminum cans; the proceeds go to fund their winter field trip. The fifth graders collect paper and newspapers from each classroom. Food service employees prepare steel and tin food cans for recycling by rinsing and crushing them. The school district has also participated with the Holdingford schools in collecting unused paper and pencils which are sent overseas.

The maintenance staff collects corrugated cardboard and transports all the recyclables to D & D Recycling twice a week. "D & D has been great to work with," Storkamp said. The recycling business gave the school maintenance staff a key to their drop-off center, since they are normally only open on Saturdays. Don Williamson of West Central Sanitation, the school district's waste hauler, has also been helpful in incorporating the waste reduction steps.

The Paynesville Area Schools have also drawn on the resources of Waste Wise, a program that promotes waste reduction and business-to-business assistance. The Material Exchange state program has also been helpful in encouraging reuse by allowing businesses and organizations to list unneeded items in their catalog. The catalog has two sections, one for materials available and one for materials wanted.

Even though only four to five items are required by law, Storkamp does his best to make sure the school recycles and reuses everything they possibly can. The maintenance staff currently purchases cleaning supplies in bulk containers and refills spray bottles and buckets, rather than buying new. All lighting has been retrofitted to remove mercury ballasts and replace them with electronic ones; and yard waste is no longer bagged. Fertilizer is not used, and weed killer is at a minimum.

There are certain types of plastics the school is not yet able to recycle at D & D, such as number one and two plastics. Some recycling businesses aren't able to take certain recyclable items due to a low demand, but these items can be recycled at certain facilities, and be put to good use. For example, pop bottle tops are difficult to get rid of, but when crushed, they are specifically used for making plastic lawn furniture or park benches.

Storkamp sees recycling limits changing in the future, as recycled materials grow in demand, and recycling and reuse becomes a larger issue in the private sector. "The schools are usually the first to recycle because they have to," Storkamp said; but recycling is more than bringing waste to a recycling bin. It also includes reusing food or other containers for other purposes, such as storage, or not buying items in packaging that can't be reused or recycled. The recycling process in itself takes energy and resources in crushing or melting down the items.

He's always looking for better, and more ways of recycling and reusing. Attempts have been made to recycle milk cartons or switch to reusable containers, and to turn food waste, which currently is thrown into the dumpster, into hog feed. The schools recycling programs are actually saving the district money in the long run, because dumpster costs are figured by cubic feet.

"I've always been a nut for environmental issues," Storkamp, who is an avid sportsman, commented. "It bugs me when people throw things on the ground." Personally, he collects paper and sawdust, and gives it to area farmers during the winter, who use it for animal bedding.

"We'll be doing this forever," Storkamp said. "I see recycling increasing in the future, not decreasing." Some schools do enough to get by, but due to the effort of Storkamp, the Paynesville Area School's students and staff, along with local businesses, they have made recycling, reusing, and general waste management a way of life.

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