A pair of Essex Elementary School fifth-graders marched down the school’s hallway, one carrying a stainless steel composting pail in his blue-gloved hands, the other gripping a handful of miniature green compostable trash bags.
Jes MacDonald and Luke Gjerde are proud of their posts as fifth-grade composters. Three times a week the two collect the buckets of compost, mostly filled during snack times, from the hallways and then schlepping the degrading food to the larger cafeteria compost center.
“We get to help save the Earth,” Luke said, peaking into another compost bucket, then dropping its lid back into place. Someone’s snack-time banana peels have crushed the bucket’s liner down, so Jes unclips the pail from its hallway wall post and carries the whole thing to the “Lucidomatic,” the recycle, compost and trash center created by the school district’s facilities manager, Joe Lucido.
The “Lucidomatic” is a table-topped island with holes for garbage, compost and recycling, respectively. But, all the composting and recycling leaves the garbage side pretty hungry for leftovers.
Behind the “Lucidomatic,” head custodian Rob Page oversees the table, shuffling lunch remains like a poker dealer — potato chips instead of plastic ones. Page slides a plastic bottle to recycling, nods to a student helping another pour leftover milk into a liquids bucket, and brushes into the compost pile a half-eaten apple that missed its mark.
“It’s like pandemonium with the littlest kids. They have no idea what they’re doing,” Page said, smiling as he instructs kids on making their composting and recycling decisions.
With Page’s help, a group of 15 schoolchildren — called the Green Team, parent volunteer Kathy Jackson, and fifth-grade teacher Kim Field lead the school’s recycling and composting efforts. The Green Team kids arrive at school early twice a week to collect recycling and set up the bins.
The Green Team formed, following an initiative at Manchester Essex Regional High School lead by Eric Magers, to make the district more eco-friendly. The compost that students gather is collected and distributed to area farms by Gloucester composting company Black Earth Haulers.
First-grader Luke Wilt has been learning about composting and recycling since Essex Elementary began its Green Team program last year.
“I was not used to it,” Luke said. “But I get it now.”
The older kids, even those not on the Green Team, seem to have the system down pat. They shuffle up to the “Lucidomatic” in bunches, organizing their leftovers into the proper containers and tipping the trays to dump the last bits.
“It’s pretty easy since they put the signs up,” fifth-grader Will Smith said, pointing at signs labeling the slots of the “Lucidomatic.” “The plastic you just put in the recycling, the food in the compost ...”
Field said as the kids have caught onto the methods, the program has expanded. The team collects used biodegradable paper towels now, too, and the recycling load has just about doubled. A school district report said the Green Teams at the Manchester Essex Middle and High and Essex Elementary schools cut their waste streams by 90 percent, saving the district $5,000 to $8,000 last year.
“We started out with just one container per classroom, and we’ve been so successful that now there are two in each room,” Field said.
Cameron Ellis, a fifth-grade member of the Green Team, lugged a green recycle bin down the hall, one kid in a group headed to a recycling dumpster outside. He heaved the crate above his head and flipped it, emptying its contents into the recyclables-only dumpster. Cameron said he doesn’t mind the odor in the air since the smell passes quickly and his work is for a good cause.
“I have fun coming to school early in the morning, getting to recycle and making the world a better place,” Cameron said.
Other Green Team members are Jessica Amero, Abby Corrao, Anthony Curcuru, Luke Daw, Alanna Fitzgerald, Caroline Harrington, Maxine Hickey, Collin Jackson, Logan McGrath, Kaitlyn O’Connell, Tim Reilly, and George Soucy.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.