By Christine Bryant
Eliminating one plastic bottle at a time.
That’s the goal of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) and Columbus City Schools, which are working together to reduce the number of single-use plastic water bottles being used.
The program is just one of many that is aimed at teaching children about sustainability. SWACO recently provided a grant to the school system to install refillable water bottle stations at Westgate Elementary, West Broad Street Elementary and Valleyview Elementary.
“SWACO is on a mission to help the Columbus region reduce its reliance on the landfill by reducing waste and improving our recycling efforts,” SWACO communications manager Hanna Greer-Brown said. “One of the best ways we can do that is by educating residents on the many benefits these activities have for our economy, environment and community.”
These education efforts include working with local students, who Greer-Brown says play an important role in continuing long-term sustainability efforts.
“In order to ensure these learnings are held well into the future, we’re working with our community’s youngest residents now with the goal that the region’s sustainability remains a long-term priority for them as they move into decision-making roles in the future,” she said.
Educators at Westgate Elementary School are looking forward to seeing how the students react to the new water bottle filling station, principal Angela Martin says.
“We are excited about the opportunity to reduce the number of single use water bottles we use,” Martin said. “Sustainability is important to both our students and our community. We will use this opportunity to reinforce the difference one person can make when it comes to saving our natural resources and sustainability.”
The program is just one of the ways the school has incorporated environmentally-friendly initiatives into its curriculum.
“Our kindergarten classes will be heading up the recycling program inside the building,” Martin said. “They will provide each classroom with a list of things that are recyclable and ensure each classroom makes appropriate use of the recycling bins in their space.”
The kindergarten classes also will be responsible for collecting the baskets and ensuring the contents are placed in the appropriate containers outside, she said.
For schools that are considering implementing similar programs or parents who are looking for ways to work with young learners at home, SWACO offers a variety of programs for educators and caregivers.
“For example, we can provide funding and technical support to help a school implement a recycling program, and we offer classroom worksheets and activities for teachers to use,” Greer-Brown said.
Supporting the implementation of sustainability activities at local schools is also critical to meeting SWACO’s diversion goals as a region, she said.
“Franklin County’s commercial sector, including area schools, sends the most material to the landfill today,” Greer-Brown said.
Yet nearly 75 percent of all current landfill material could be reused, recycled or composted, she said.
“So if we want to reach a 75 percent diversion goal by 2032, we need these commercial sector partners to be successful in their sustainability efforts,” she said. “SWACO is here to help them.”
Other options for children wanting to learn more about ways they can help protect the environment include visiting SWACO’s website and engaging in online games and activities located in the “Kids Corner,” as well as taking a tour of the landfill either in person or virtually.
“When you see all of the material that comes to the landfill and connect that to how we all share in the responsibility, it really makes an impression,” Greer-Brown said.