By Jeff Ray

MESQUITE (CBSDFW.COM) –  Keep America Beautiful is still going strong. If you were watching television in the 70’s you probably remember their public awareness campaign, still rated as one of the best  public service commercials ever.  Their latest program is the Recycle Bowl, a nation-wide contest for schools to see which one can recycle the most material in an one-month period. This is the first year of the program and over 1,500 schools competed.

The average American on the average day produces four pounds of waste. Most of this material is recyclable: plastic, glass, paper and metal is most of the waste stream. Tack on composting of food other than fats and meat and as much as 70%-80% of trash can be diverted from the landfill.

The Recycle Bowl was very successful. For the average student participating in the program each recycled five pounds of recyclable material, a pound more than the average amount of trash each student normally produces in a day. In other words, they produced a negative in the landfill stream. Instead of adding about four pounds, they kept out five pounds per day during the month-long contest.

At Sam Rutherford Elementary in Mesquite the students did quite a bit better than that. They averaged 38 pounds of material per day per student, more than seven times the national average. This was very close to the best of ANY school in the contest (the winning school reached a stunning 42 lbs). Regardless, the 37 pounds reached by Rutherford meant they won “best of state”. They are officially now the best recycling school in Texas.

The teachers helped tremendously when they all decided to “thin-out” their drawers and lockers. Each classroom has a recycle bin sitting next to the door. We observed students steadily throwing in paper and plastic through class time. A “green team” of 5th graders spent every afternoon picking these bins up and dumping them in the slew of recycle dumpsters in the back of the school. A couple of times a week these bins were picked up and weighed.

For their effort the school planned an all-out celebration for winning the state title. The local high school provided a band and pep squad, every local dignitary in the Mesquite community attended, from the Mayor to the head of the school board. A representative from Keep America Beautiful flew in from Washington, D.C. awarded the school a $1000 check.

Talking with the teachers and administrators it seems the recycling at Rutherford has continued at the same pace. Students are teaching their parents at home to do the same. Students and teachers are already planning their strategy for winning the NATIONAL competition next year.

Generational shifts are rather dramatic sometimes. Look at poll results over a range of social issues over a range of age categories and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve talked to restaurant owners, event organizers, recycling insiders and they all have observed the same thing: kids recycle more than their parents when out in public. Given the recycling effort in schools like Rutherford and the education it instills perhaps the next generation coming up will see the mandatory recycling of San Francisco as the norm. The city recycles about 70% of its waste stream. Dallas/Fort Worth averages less than 20%.