Recycling project helps keep West Jefferson Hills School District, community eco-friendly
Mounds of plastic bottles often overflowed from the garbage cans and were left scattered on the benches after sporting events at area parks and Thomas Jefferson High School.
Jesse Hinkle, a self-proclaimed tomboy and outdoor enthusiast, noticed as she stayed to clean up after volleyball and basketball games or track meets that there was no place to recycle the large number of empty water and sports-drink bottles left by team members.
Instead, the containers simply were tossed in with the other garbage.
“I'm a very eco-friendly person,” said Hinkle, 18, who still offers to cut the grass at her parents' home and enjoys being outside as much as possible to hike, camp or fish. “It's one of those things in the back of your mind that you wonder, ‘How many recyclables would it take to get to start recycling here?'”
Hinkle found out, as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project, by bringing a plastic and can recycling program to all five schools in the West Jefferson Hills School District and Jefferson Hills' 885 Andrew Reilly Memorial Park and Gill Hall Park.
It took months of work, coordinating with other Girl Scouts, learning about the recycling process and meeting with local officials to convince them that the program was needed. In West Jefferson Hills, even, it meant working with district leaders to get recycling pickups started at the schools before any bins could be placed inside the buildings.
“It was a major learning experience,” said Hinkle's mother, Leslee.
Jesse Hinkle, of Jefferson Hills, began working on the project her senior year, after the SAT, ACT and graduation projects were out of the way. She graduated from Thomas Jefferson in June.
Involved in Girl Scouts since the first grade, Hinkle said completing her Gold Award project was important to her.
“Everyone always said it's something special if you stay with it to the end,” she said.
Growing up just over the hill from 885 park, Hinkle said she knew there was a need for recycling in the area. She often watched as people tossed their cans and bottles into the refuse containers. It might have been because they had nowhere else to put them. But with the “Go Green” movement, Hinkle said, she wanted to give them an option.
She began by contacting borough officials to see if she could place bins in the park to give residents a chance to recycle. She got a reassuring “yes,” and officials helped her secure bins that could be used in the parks, Hinkle said, although painting and decorating them to make them appealing was a must.
Hinkle then approached officials in the West Jefferson Hills School District about getting recycling into the district. This was the toughest task of them all, she said.
The district has had a recycling program in place for paper and computers for many years, director of facilities Dennis Sobczak said. Through Boy Scout and Girl Scout and other community efforts, there was some recycling in schools for cans and plastics, but that was sporadic at best, he said.
Hinkle said she spoke with school board members; the acting assistant superintendent, Hamsini Rajgopal; and principals about getting a more meaningful program into the schools. Through constant emails and phone calls, she said, she learned a lot about local government and how recycling collection works.
West Jefferson Hills purchased 10 recycling containers to be placed inside the five schools.
Hinkle coordinated Girl Scout troops from across the area — many with students who attend elementary schools in West Jefferson Hills and would see their bins in their own schools — to decorate the blue containers so they wouldn't look dull in cafeterias and by the gymnasiums of the schools, Hinkle said.
“They were so excited to help,” Hinkle's mother said.
Sharing the message
County Hauling, which provides refuse collection for the district, had not provided recycling collection for West Jefferson Hills before, Hinkle and district officials both said.
So, they added bins outside Thomas Jefferson High School and Pleasant Hills Middle School into which custodians could empty the smaller containers. This was at no charge, Sobczak said. County Hauling will empty the outside bins on an as-needed basis.
Custodians will ensure the program continues, Sobczak said.
“She enhanced and grew an existing program,” he said.
Hinkle's work was met with praise from district leaders.
“I think it was a great idea,” school board Vice President Carolyn Bourgeois said.
“If you'd have asked me, I would have thought that we would have had a recycling program in place,” Bourgeois said. “I know that she had to cut through a lot of red tape. ... It was great that she did this.”
The borough of Jefferson Hills contracts with Waste Management for refuse and recycling collection. So Hinkle teamed up with Erika Deyarmin, public affairs coordinator for Waste Management of Western Pennsylvania, to help share her message of recycling with local students.
Waste Management has a companywide goal to educate 200,000 young people to be environmental stewards this year, Deyarmin said. So, Hinkle's project aligned with the company's mission.
The two visited Jefferson Elementary and shared the importance of recycling with third-graders in April, Deyarmin said.
While Deyarmin helped Hinkle with the youngsters, handling the adults and local municipal and school district officials was all Hinkle.
“She took it and ran with it,” Deyarmin said. “She really had all control over it.”
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.