Recycling Success Story: Westside Elementary in Gouverneur

A student at Westside Elementary pours out his milk prior to recycling his milk carton. Students say that they feel they are “saving the planet with each milk carton.”

(Gouverneur, NY – Dec. 2012) Students in Gouverneur are taking proactive steps to help the environment by recycling a product they consume every day, milk cartons.

Students at Westside Elementary School, located in Gouverneur, began recycling milk cartons in their cafeteria this fall after Sayre Stevens, Recycling and Solid Waste Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Jefferson County in partnership with the Development Authority of the North Country, approached Charity Zawatski.

Zawatski worked closely with Harold Simmons, Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds for the Gouverneur School District to implement the project.

Stevens contacted the principal to see if West Side Elementary was interested in starting a recycling program in their school, and met with school administrators to discuss the current level of “ZeroSort” recycling that Gouverneur Central already participates in with Casella Waste Systems, Inc.

Stevens presented a few additional options for simple recycling, including milk carton recycling, and potential cost reduction.

“The process is simple,” said Zawatski, “students pour out any unused mild or other liquids into the sink in the tray return area.  Then the empty milk cartons are put into a new garbage can that is clearly marked Milk Cartons Only,” continued  Zawatski.

During the initial stages older students were posted as guards to model and teach the younger students the process for one week. After the initial training period all the students knew what to do.

When Zawatski checked on student progress one student said, “We recycle because we are saving the planet with each milk carton. This is easy and we have milk every day.”

Recent cafeteria waste audits show that milk cartons are the largest waste category by volume.  Recycling milk cartons can greatly reduce the volume of trash schools place in their dumpsters, and also help schools avoid foul odors associated with sour milk in their trash dumpsters by pouring milk down the drain.

“Schools in St. Lawrence County are able to recycle their milk cartons and other aseptic packaging like drink boxes. This can be a big help for schools looking for a way to trim their trash budget while doing something good for the environment.” said Stevens.

Westside Elementary generates one large garbage bag of empty milk cartons each day.  By early calculations, on average ten milk carton bags during a two week trash cycle are disposed of. The cartons are put into the school’s Zero Sort recycling dumpster along with all of the other recyclables that the school generates. Over the course of the experimental timeframe, it is predicted that increasing the recycling of milk cartons will have decreased trash disposal costs, which should lead to a smaller dumpster and reduction in waste management overall.

To get help setting up a milk carton recycling project in your St. Lawrence County school call Mr. Stevens at Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Jefferson County at 315-788-8450 ext. 235.







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