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Waukesha school watching its 'waste' line

STEM Academy families will try to reduce trash

Waste not -  Members of the Zimmermann family from City of Waukesha set out their full recycling bin during the 2010 Challenge.

Waste not - Members of the Zimmermann family from City of Waukesha set out their full recycling bin during the 2010 Challenge. Photo By Submitted Photo

Sept. 13, 2011

The garbage people throw away doesn't just magically disappear once the trash collector picks it up once a week. Landfills fill up and a lack of recycling has negative environmental consequences.

The Waukesha County Recycling Office is looking to once again help people understand this by implementing the Reduce Your Waste Stream Challenge, and this time there is a new twist to the challenge - a Waukesha school is getting into the act.

"We did this last year with families, but we wanted to take a different slant," Waukesha County Solid Waste Supervisor Karen Fiedler said.

The challenge in 2010 was labeled as the "Waukesha County Neighborhood Challenge," but now families from Waukesha's STEM Academy, which is broken into an elementary and middle school, are participating.

"It was a very well-run challenge last year and families that participated had positive results," said Ryan Krohn, principal of STEM's Saratoga campus. "Helping build awareness within schools and helping build new habits are what we're all about."

Learning the challenge

The purpose of the challenge, which is in collaboration with the Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin, is for a family to reduce the weight of its trash and increase its recycling weight over a monthlong period.

Starting with a baseline week - a typical amount of trash generated by the household before making extra efforts to reduce - each household measures, in pounds, how much garbage they create.

Following that, a Recycling and Waste Education Day will take place on Sept. 24 with three free recycling and waste reduction workshops at the Waukesha County Materials Recycling Facility. Sessions are at 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Each 45-60 minute session will teach participating families ways to reduce waste and increase recycling. They will also get a tour of the facility. Registration is required.

After that, it's game on. This year's reduction phase takes place from Sept. 26 to Oct. 17. The final week to weigh the material will then take place during the week of Oct. 17 to 21. If 25 percent of the families who participate complete the challenge, the school is eligible for a grant that Fiedler said would be worth $1,000.

Impressive figures

Thirty-three families participated in the challenge last year and Fiedler said the results were positive, with only a couple families not able to finish the challenge. The families reduced their trash by 49 percent, an average of 12.6 pounds, and increased recycling by 66 percent, an average of 10 pounds per week.

Fiedler said if 25 percent of county residents reduced their garbage use and increased recycling by this amount, the county would divert 7,200 tons of garbage a year from landfills and increase recycling by 5,700 tons. Landfill disposal fees would also drop by almost $300,000.

This comes at a time when state landfills fees are increasing. In 2009, they jumped by 120 percent to $13 per ton. But Fiedler said if residents would reduce their trash amount and increase their recycling by 10 percent, total landfill costs would be reduced by more than $320,000 and the value of recyclables would increase by more than $210,000, saving more than $500,000 per year.

There were families, Fiedler noted, who went above and beyond the call. Take the Baas family of Brookfield who won the challenge by reducing their trash from their baseline week of 20.8 pounds to 2.1 pounds during the challenge, an almost 90 percent reduction.

Making a conscious effort

Fiedler set up a blog at www.reduceyourwastestream.org where participants could post their results and hopes students and families at STEM are just as active as people from last year. Last year in the blog, some people were surprised by how well they were doing and offered up how their habits were changing.

They were simple changes. Some were using recyclable or reusable containers. Others were reducing their amount of disposable tableware. But most were starting to compost certain food items with their newly purchased home composting bins.

Some even got creative with it, like the Rajnicek family of Waukesha.

"Jayden, our daughter, has been busy sewing bags made from juice bags. Her brothers are busy collecting them from their friends at school in the lunch room for her. Next she is going to make a lunchable cover bag," the Rajnicek family wrote.

And while the challenge being around Halloween last year could have presented problems for some, the Baas family found a way to avoid it.

"Pumpkins [are] not great for recycling, but wonderful for the compost," the Bass family said. "We skipped the messy newspaper this year by carving on the driveway. The mess went into the compost, we roasted the seeds and the rest was cleaned by the rain."

Fiedler was impressed with this effort.

"We thought if people reduced their trash by 10 percent and increase their recycling by 10 or 20 percent that would be good," Fiedler said. "We never thought it would be by that much. That's huge. We didn't anticipate that at all. Once we saw that it wasn't that difficult, we decided to push this out to schools."

'Real-life teachings'

The recycling challenge fits quite nicely into Waukesha STEM Academy's mission of applying science, technology, engineering and mathematics to everyday principles.

"We're always looking for a challenge and problems to address and it worked out really nicely," Krohn said. "It applies a hands-on experience that the students can use science and math with their measurements and during the weighing process.

"This challenge has real-life teachings and we can apply the principles."

With Saratoga, the middle school, and the Randall Campus, STEM's elementary school participating, Krohn offered up a challenge to new Principal Chris Kluck and his staff.

"We're looking to have a friendly competition," Krohn said. "We'll be having our own classroom challengesKate Krzysik, the student resource teacher at Randall, said she looks forward to the challenge and is taking the challenge beyond the homes.

"Even though it is focused on the home environment, as a school, we're taking on the challenge," Krzysik said. "We definitely wanted to be a part of this."

And it's still not too late to sign up. Fiedler encourages any school administrators, parent-teacher organizations or teachers wanting to join Waukesha STEM Academy in the challenge to sign up online.

While there was an incentive - a 46-inch LCD television last year among other prizes - Fiedler said the competition went beyond that.

"The families who participated said their habits would never be the same," Fiedler said. "And it raised their awareness. We saw that as a positive and saw what it can do."

After all, these changes shouldn't be just for a month, she said. They should become a way of life.

"It's difficult to get people's attention to this issue," Fiedler said. "This is an opportunity to re-educate people. We would like to get hundreds of families to see what changes they can make, because it's more of an ongoing effort."

Time to Recycle

What: Reduce Your Waste Stream Challenge

Who: Families from Waukesha's STEM Academy

Last year's Champ: Baas family from Brookfield

Sign Up: www.reduceyourwastestream.org

Contact: Karen Fiedler, County Solid Waste Supervisor

Email: recycling@waukeshacounty.gov

Phone: (262) 896-8300

COMPOST TIPS

Do compost:

* Yard materials

* Vegetable and fruit scraps

* Coffee grounds and filters

* Tea bags

* Nut shells

* Eggshells

* Clean, unwaxed paper, such as newspaper and cardboard

* Animal manure (not pet waste)

Do not compost:

* Meat or fish scraps, bones and packaging

* Dairy products (milk, cheese, egg yolks, etc.)

* Fats and oils or foods containing fats and oils

* Pet waste

* Diseased or insect-ridden plants

* Highly invasive plants like garlic mustard, unless completely dry and without flowers or seeds

- Information compiled by the Wisconsin Department Natural Resources

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