The Great Recyclers at PS 149

Today’s guest blogger is Michael Verdi, a corps member currently serving on the PS 149 team in East New York, Brooklyn. Michael graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University where we majored in Environmental Studies and minored in Journalism and International Studies. When Michael discovered there wasn’t a recycling program at his school, he decided to combine his passions and implement a “Green Team.” 

The Green Team in action sorting drink pouches to earn points for their school!

In addition to fulfilling the academic needs of the students I have the privilege of working with each day at P.S. 149 in East New York, I have also worked hard to incorporate my personal passion into my service. Having just graduated last year with a degree in Environmental Studies, it is an important goal of mine to instill a sense of environmental stewardship in the students I work with on a daily basis. This led me to organize a yearlong recycling initiative at my school, run by a group of about 40 students, called the “Green Team.” Students in grades 3, 4, and 5 were given the opportunity to sign up for the Green Team back in November, as long as they had signed permission slips from both their parent and teacher indicating that their classwork and behavior were in good enough standing to participate. Every week at P.S. 149, students on the Green Team are picked up from their classrooms by a City Year corps member to collect the paper, plastic, and aluminum recycling from all the other classrooms in the building. The Green Team is also responsible for facilitating the collection and storage of used drink pouches. These pouches are packaged and mailed to a company called TerraCycle, which recycles them and awards points for each container they receive. These points are then used to earn money for the school.

On April 30, I took 24 students from PS 149’s Green Team on a field trip to an event in Times Square called “The Great Recycle” co-hosted by Honest Tea and Terracycle. The event featured a 30-foot inflated recycling bin. The night before, I wrote a comment on wall of the event’s official Facebook page. Seth Goldman, the founder of Honest Tea, and a representative from another company called Recyclebank were among the event coordinators who replied to my comment and anticipated our arrival. We brought along 303 recyclable beverage containers that we had been collecting for about two weeks, which we counted and exchanged for points. Students then climbed an elevated stage in front of the 30-foot blown-up recycling container, rang a gong, and pledged their commitment to recycle in order to earn even more points for our group. As a surprise treat, the Green Team also took it upon themselves to recite the poem, “My Mind is a Pearl,” which they recite every morning after The Pledge of Allegiance, for a large audience of Times Square tourists. Students then used their points to purchase prizes made from recycled materials. Prizes included t-shirts, backpacks, tote bags, and various organic snacks and juices. GrowNYC, a local organization focused on gardening education, was also present at the event. They provided a mini-lesson for our students on urban gardening, showcasing gardening equipment that was completely rendered from recycled materials.

“I liked the field trip because we saw a lot of cool stuff, like benches made from plastic bottles,” said Tiffany, a fourth grader on the Green Team. “I love being on the Green Team because I get to help the community and the earth with my friends. It makes school more fun.”

I take comfort in the idea that the Green Team provides my students with senses of pride and responsibility. They have truly taken ownership of the program, and I receive dozens of inquiries each day from other students interested in signing up. In addition to embracing their new leadership roles, students have also begun to show signs of increased awareness and concern for environmental integrity and the concept of sustainability. The Green Team is the legacy I have chosen to leave behind at P.S. 149, and I feel confident that the students on this year’s team are invested enough to successfully pass the torch along to their classmates for years to come.

The PS 149 Green Team showing off their new recycling shirts!