On America Recycles Day, the corner of a storage room in Kelly Phillips Erb’s law office looked more like a multi-colored mountain than a stack of about 6,000 grocery bags donated by Cook-Wissahickon students.
Phillips Erb is the parent volunteer running the school’s two Green Clubs, which are divided into two groups — the Green Sprouts for third-to-fifth graders and the Green Club for sixth-to-eighth graders.
To celebrate National Recycling Day on Tuesday and to promote the reuse of resources, Phillips Erb decided to get the entire school involved with a plastic bag drive by coaxing students with a prize of a pizza party.
A large plastic bag filled to the brim with smaller bags from a science class reads: “Papa John’s please.”
The message Phillips Erb is trying to send to students is that, in some cases, it may be better to reuse than to recycle.
“Economically, it’s not feasible for most cities to promote the recycling of plastic bags,” said Phillips Erb, citing that it actually costs more in energy to recycle them. “But then you put it in a landfill and it takes [about] 1,000 years to decompose.”
Phillips Erb said the bags — which are a number two plastic, accepted at the curb — will be reused in crafts for the Green Clubs. Green Sprouts will make snowmen and the Green Club will melt the bags with an iron to create a larger, reusable bag.
Samantha Ferraro, a third grader in Green Sprouts, said the club has got her thinking green.
“I’ve turned off the lights [more often] and I’ve unplugged my chargers,” she said.
Samantha’s mother, Donna Ferraro, said her daughter now tosses items in recycling bins instead of trash cans, while encouraging her siblings to do the same.
“She is our recycling queen,” she said. “Every Monday she comes in so excited about whatever they learned that day.”
Samantha chose to be a member of Green Sprouts over the drama and art clubs.
Phillips Erb, like several other parent volunteers, comes in on her lunch hour on Monday to teach the clubs’ 23 members how to better the planet, as well as how to keep money in mind.
“There’s a common interest in educating the students and families in sustainability initiatives,” said Principal Karen Thomas, who discovered soon after she got the job last year that she’d have to join forces with the very active Wissahickon Sustainability Council.
One of the main goals is to lessen the amount of costly resources the school must use for general maintenance.
Aside from teaching children to be conscious of the environment, Phillips Erb said the key reason for her volunteering is to help the school cope with the crippling budget cuts that are affecting many schools throughout Philadelphia.
“We have to fight for every dollar,” she said. “Making [the school more] energy efficient will save money.”
Cook-Wissahickon is happily cooperating with the club’s initiative, by syncing the end of a clothing drive to America Recycles Day.
Thomas said the drive wasn’t needs based, but was an effort to promote the reuse and sharing of resources.
But the school also has longer term plans to keep going green.
Thomas said there’s an ongoing effort to replace all plants and grass in the schoolyard with native plants to better the environment, as well as reduce costs for fertilizer and water.
Ferraro said it’s helping plant native plants in the school’s garden that has her daughter most excited about going green.