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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Paper Trail

Air Date: Week of

When one librarian decides to start a recycling program at her New Hampshire high school, it's met with mixed reviews from teachers and students alike. But, as senior Carey Crossman reports, it's the librarian who has the last laugh.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood and coming up: invasive species, friends, foes, or folly? But first, the average New Hampshire resident produces about five pounds of trash a day. Now, that's less than just a few years ago, thanks to lighter bottles and plastic cans, and recycling. Back in 2001, faced with a growing scarcity of landfills, the state initiated a recycling program. But, two years later, it was eliminated for budgetary reasons. As part of Living on Earth’s ecological literacy project, Carey Crossman reports on a new recycling effort underway at his high school in Claremont.


CROSSMAN: It's Monday afternoon, and some student volunteers at Stevens High are running down the halls and into classrooms, coming out and carrying blue and clear plastic bins.


CROSSMAN: The students dump the bins loaded with paper into even bigger bins, and these are emptied into a dump truck, which takes the paper to a huge trailer behind Claremont's middle school.

MAN: Have a good day. Thank you for giving me all this paper and cardboard.


CROSSMAN: Once the trailer is full, it holds about 5 tons, it's hauled to a recycling plant in Billerica, Massachusetts.


CROSSMAN: For Stevens High science teacher Joanna Bitter, this is a scene she couldn't have imagined just a few years ago when she first tried to bring recycling to the school.

BITTER: It didn't work out. It worked for the first spring semester we did it, and over the summer, our garbage cans which we had been using for our recycling cans became part of the janitor supplies and disappeared.

CROSSMAN: And so teachers and students just continued to throw their paper, plastic and cans into the trash, until 2003, when the school librarian decided to act.

FREELAND: I was appalled at the amount of paper, particularly in the library, that was going into the garbage cans.

CROSSMAN: Kate Freeland is a librarian at Stevens High.

FREELAND: I recycle at home, it's important to me, and it hurt me every time I picked up 20 pages that came out of the printer that no one claimed, and threw them into the garbage. So I decided to go ahead.


CROSSMAN: Kate Freeland takes a weeks' worth of newspaper and throws it into one of the recycling bins in the library. It was Freeland who initiated a new effort to get the school to recycle. But this time, no cans, no bottles, just paper.

FREELAND: And I got the permission of the administration to go ahead. They were enthusiastic but not encouraging, because of the experience they had had before.

CROSSMAN: Kate Freeland searched the Internet, and found the NRRA, The Northeast Resource Recovery Association. Based in Chichester, it's a co-op that provides members with information and helps with the logistics of recycling. 170 New Hampshire schools are members, and Freeland decided to join. But finding volunteers to help put the program into practice was tough. The librarian even had to use her own car to take the paper to the collection place. Fortunately, social studies teacher Jill Chasteny shared Freeland's enthusiasm.

CHASTENY: I've been recycling on my own for a long time, since probably late high school, and I've just continued to do it in my personal life, and one of my goals when I got my job here was to get recycling going in this building.

CROSSMAN: Jill Chasteny says slowly but surely, participation in the school's recycling project grew. But there were some teachers who thought it was a waste of time and energy. Especially history teacher Rod Minkler.

MINKLER: I don't have the urge and the need to recycle, I don't believe in the process. I think a lot of it is just making people feel good about themselves and I don't see much end result.

CHASTENY: (laughs) You talked to Rod, didn't you? What he probably hasn't told you is that he secretly, or sometimes quietly, does come over here with piles of paper and puts it in my recycling bin on occasion.

CROSSMAN: All that paper adds up. Every few weeks, librarian Kate Freeland receives a check from the NRRA. The amount depends upon the going rate for recycled paper. The money, 115 dollars after expenses so far, goes into the school's general fund.


CROSSMAN: There are also benefits beyond the money and reducing pollution. While many student volunteers say they only work on the recycling project because they have to do community service in order to graduate, some, like eleventh grade student Amanda Adams, says the project has changed her attitude.

ADAMS: I like it a lot, it's really fun. I enjoy this a lot better than staying home and watching TV. I can see it's really working, I mean, look at the stacks of cardboard. It's overflowing the hallway. It's great. We're finally getting rid of some of this stuff and it's not going to the dump.

CROSSMAN: Last year, the schools participating in the Northeast Resource Recovery Association recycled nearly 25,000 tons of paper. And if Kate Freeland had her way, soon there could be more.

FREELAND: So we have gotten a commitment from the district to supply district maintenance trucks to, and personnel, to move the paper. That's a huge step. My car is no longer needed every week, or Jill's. And as we move more toward district responsibility and less toward Kate and Jill responsibility, I see this just going on. It becomes a Claremont School District program, and not a Stevens High School program.

CROSSMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Carey Crossman in Claremont, New Hampshire.



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