A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Cardinal Valley Elementary team embraces the three R’s: Recycle, reuse, reduce

By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward

Ten-year-old Eduardo Tiscareno, a member of his school’s recycling team, takes his environmental responsibilities seriously, and he knows younger students look to them to set a good example.

“The little kids are following our steps to learn how to keep the trash out of the recycling and the recycling out of the trash,” he explained.

Ashley Bryant Cheney, an environmental educator with Bluegrass Greensource, recently gave Eduardo and several other fifth-graders at Cardinal Valley Elementary a refresher lesson. Eduardo’s four-member team, which usually takes out the entire building’s recyclables on Wednesday afternoon, saved one week’s bags for Bryant Cheney’s activity. Science teacher Adonya Boyle also reserved a day’s worth of schoolwide trash, excluding cafeteria waste.

The recycling team takes out the recyclables for the entire building on Wednesdays (Photo Provided)

The recycling team takes out the recyclables for the entire building on Wednesdays (Photo Provided)

Before the students arrived, Bryant Cheney took care of the grubbier work – sifting through the trash bags to set aside items that should have been recycled, including an armload of plastic water bottles. Then the fifth-graders divided the dozen or so recycling bags and pulled out materials that should have gone into the trash instead.

Among pieces the students flagged were waxed cardboard, wet wipes containers, laminated paper, and even a computer keyboard whose cord would be especially hazardous for the recycling machinery.

Separately, Bryant Cheney weighed the trash and the recyclables that were in the wrong bins, and jotted notes to compare the results to last year’s waste audit at Cardinal Valley.

“Ms. Boyle can use that data to go over in class, make charts, and do math and science lessons,” she said. “The kids really do a good job. They’re really committed to recycling,” she added, challenging the older students to take the next step. “When you’re really good at recycling and pretty good at reusing things, you need to think about how to reduce the amount of waste you produce. Little changes do make a big difference.”

The rest of the day, Bryant Cheney visited grades K-3 in their classrooms, where she introduced the idea of two different waste streams – explaining how recyclables are used again in new products while garbage simply goes into a hole in the ground. She also described paper, metal, and plastic as types of reusable material and reviewed the familiar recycling symbol. In addition, Bryant Cheney shared the book “Michael Recycle” and encouraged all the children to be recycling heroes in their school.

On another front, Cardinal Valley also makes the most of its food waste, with composting buckets in each classroom to collect healthy snack leftovers as well as fruit and vegetable scraps after lunch.

“We’re making really good soil for our garden,” Boyle noted.

Boyle, who teaches in K-5, simply wants her students to learn to take better care of the environment.

“My biggest goal is reducing the amount of trash we have on the earth,” said Boyle, who also advises the recycling team and the green team. “In 30 years, will we have enough room for all the trash we make?”

With regular reminders from Bluegrass Greensource as well, the Cardinal Valley youngsters embrace the environmental stewardship message and even share recycling tips with friends and family.

“I feel like the students have more pride in their neighborhood,” Boyle said. “It helps them understand how to be a community leader.”


The school recycling program is coordinated by Bluegrass Greensource in partnership with Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.

Tammy L. Lane is website editor for Fayette County Public Schools

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