GMU, Morris win recycling competition

(COOPERSTOWN) – Gilbertsville-Mount Upton Elementary and Morris Middle/High Schools were the top recyclers of film plastic in this year’s Otsego County Plastic Film Recycling Challenge. Students from eight schools participated in this year’s challenge, which was sponsored by the Otsego County Solid Waste Department and Otsego County Conservation Association.

“Even though the state has had a plastic bag recycling law since 2009, we find that many people are still unaware of it,” said Otsego County Recycling Coordinator, Shane Digan. “The challenge is a good way to raise awareness of this, and to keep film plastics out of the main recycling stream.”

Students in Gilbertsville-Mount Upton Elementary School collected a total of 786.8 pounds of bags and film plastic, equal to 3.9 pounds per student. At Morris, students in the middle/high school gathered 246.8 pounds, or 1.6 pounds per student.

“The kids did a great job taking this message home to their parents and community,” said Jeff O’Handley, OCCA’s program director. “We hope they will continue recycling now that the competition is over.”

Schools were recruited in October and early November, Digan said. The challenge officially begain on November 15, 2019, which is America Recycles Day. The challenge was scheduled to run until mid-April, but was cut short due to COVID-19.

In addition to Morris and Gilbertsville-Mount Upton, participating schools included Greater Plains Elementary School in Oneonta, Worcester and Richfield Springs.

“We had some really great participation,” Digan said. “All eight schools collectively recycled more than 3300 pounds of film plastics that would either go to the landfill or clog up machinery at recycling centers.”

Schools used innovative techniques to maximize collections. Students at Worcester Central School created a monster that was placed at the main entrance to remind everyone to bring in their plastic. Other schools used competitions between classes, as well as peer-to-peer teaching to increase participation.

“My environmental science students do presentations in grades Pre-k through 8th grade classrooms, as well as posting updated weights on a poster in the lobby and Facebook posts.  We have had a ton of community turn out the last two years!” said Heather Grant from Morris.

Some schools even had their own mini competition. “We had a challenge that was supported by our PTO,” said Nancy Osborn of Greater Plains Elementary School. “The winning grade level would win either a pizza party or ice-cream party. Students were excited about which class was ‘winning.’”

Richfield Springs worked the recycling challenge into their school theme, “Our school theme is kindness,” said Lisa Trask. “We built off this theme and told kids how long it takes plastic to break down in the earth. When they brought plastic in they were given a kindness coin or purple ticket.”

Under state law, stores of a certain size are required to collect bags and film plastics and send it to a recycler. The material includes plastic grocery bags, dry cleaning and newspaper bags, package overwrap, wood pellet bags and more. A list of items that can be taken to stores can be found at

Digan stated that it was important for people to be aware that these recycling programs are still going on. “With the pandemic, we’ve seen many stores shift temporarily back to single use plastic bags. We want people to know there’s still a way for them to recycle bags and film plastic.”


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