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Burr Ridge's Trinity Lutheran School Boosts its Green Efforts

The school works with an East Coast company whose goal is to eliminate waste by not only recycling but upcycling, the process of re-using items close to their original purpose.

Students and staff of a Burr Ridge school are stepping up their efforts to be green by focusing on difficult-to-recycle products that, until now, ended up in the school's garbage cans.

Trinity Lutheran School sends drink pouches, potato chip bags and cookie wrappers to TerraCycle in New Jersey, which recycles trash typically not recycled. The company has about 45 brigades worldwide of individuals and groups such as Trinity that collect and send garbage.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Janice Barnacle, the parent volunteer currently heading TerraCycle’s work with Trinity. “There’s a lot of interest in making it part of the community.”

She said Trinity chose TerraCycle's program became it was the easiest one to join and has no set-up or shipping costs. “Although we only get 2 cents per item … it was a great way to show the students how easy it is to recycle and it was a fun way for them to participate,” she said, in an email to Burr Ridge Patch.

“TerraCycle’s goal is to eliminate the idea of waste. We do this by creating collection programs and recycling solutions for all kinds of typically non-recyclable waste. In essence, we recycle the non-recyclable,” Stacey Cusack, public relations manager for TerraCycle, said.

“Commonly recyclable items are typically made from one substance,” she said. “If it [an item] is made from more than one material, it cannot be recycled using traditional recycling methods. Because consumers demand convenient, affordable and safe packaging, this is not likely to change.” 

More than 14 million individuals collect waste in 11 countries and send it to TerraCycle, diverting billions of pieces of waste into more than 1,500 products available at major retailers, including Wal-Mart and Whole Foods Market, according to TerraCycle’s Web site. The company was founded in 2001 by Tom Szaky, who was then a 20-year-old Princeton University freshman.

“TerraCycle is not concerned with commonly recyclable materials. We’re focused on every other kind of waste that currently cannot be recycled,” Cusack said. “Our team of scientists and designers are constantly experimenting with new materials and products that can be made from the waste that TerraCycle collects. All of our partners, including Method, Solo and Kraft Foods, are committed to offering their consumers a solution for their packaging by sponsoring a brigade program.”  

“Each collection brigade, which can be made up of one or many people, rallies together in its community or home and gathers as much of its chosen waste as possible,” Cusack stated. “These items are then upcycled into backpacks and notebooks, or recycled into plastics such as flower planters, picture frames and trash cans. … Upcycling is reusing something in or close to its original form.”

Anogher way to look at upcycling, according to Naturally Savvy, a natural health Web site, is that downcycling reduces the quality of the materials, while upcycling maintains or improves the quality of the materials.

TerraCycle also upcycles items into re-usable plastic products, including Ozark Trail eco-friendly, expandable coolers, which Wal-Mart will be selling. Floor tiles, picture frames and plastic lumber are also products that are made from recycled wrappers and plastics, available online at TerraCycleShop.com, or at major retail stores.

“A brigade receives two points for every piece of trash it sends in, and those points can be used to buy charity gifts, or converted to cash for donation to a charity of the participant’s choice,” Cusack stated.

Trinity Lutheran School participates in multiple brigades, Barnacle said. The school has sent TerraCycle more than 13,740 units of waste since 2009, Cusack added.

“It’s such a great thing. It’s worth it not sitting in a landfill,” Barnacle said.

“It's good for the environment and is a way to earn some cash for the school or charity of your choice. With all [of] these summer barbecues and parties, a lot of trash will be generated, and this is a great way for Burr Ridge residents to think about what they really need to throw away and if they can keep the trash out of the landfill,” Cusack said.

In addition to upcycling products, the design team at TerraCycle also brainstormed some do-it-yourself ideas for wrappers that were formerly waste. These include using a Frito-Lay chip bag to form a chip bowl, or making herb planters from used Solo cups, according to TerraCycle.

“As the years progressed, the program with TerraCycle took off, not on our end at the school but with the Terracyle organization themselves,” Barnacle said. “For something that started off small it is now evident and a part of our school. If we all take time to invest in the future of our environment the better off we will all be.”

Burr Ridge residents can become involved by contacting Trinity Lutheran School Principal Aaron Landgrave at trinityprincipal@comcast.net.

“If the community would help bring stuff in it would benefit the school. Every little bit helps,” Barnacle said.  

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