Oak Crest students’ recycling project turns green into gold


A group of 20 green-minded students at Oak Crest Middle School is changing the way the campus thinks about trash and recycling. Since launching the OC Recycles program in February, the campus’s 35 percent recycling rate has grown to 76 percent, well on its way to the students’ 80 percent goal.

Because more materials are being recycled and less is going into the garbage, the school has also reduced its trash pick-up service from three times a week to once a week, saving Oak Crest $152 a month, which equals a total of $1,366 for the school year.

On May 27, Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar honored the class for its impressive accomplishment with certificates of recognition.

“I’m proud that this incredible program you have started here that helps the whole community,” Gaspar said. “You have had a positive impact on the school budget and the environment. Imagine what a difference it could make if all schools in the county replicated what you did here? You all are genuine leaders in this effort.”

The students who founded OC Recycles are Saray Casillas, Erik Rivera, Nicolas Gibson, Ashley Moore, Collin Freundt-Sokolow, Joey Neill, Karen Cruz, Aly Acosta, Ashley Atempa, Alicia Excamilla, Melissa Freese,

Ernesto Juarez, Halie Lourens, Jonathon Ortiz-Lopez, Ricardo Gallardo, Luke Hoffman, Hannah Otto, Chenoa Lippke, Caden Capps and Juan Cruz.

The program started in teacher Jesse Mindlin’s seventh- and eighth-grade English class, with educational visits from Bill Dean from Dean and Associates.

Dean is the former recycling director for San Diego North County Waste and Recycling company and contracts with cities and school districts on recycling, storm water pollution prevention and rain harvesting.

“We learned about the history of trash, how it was burned and then later fed to pigs,” Saray said. “The stories about recycling helped us understand what happens to the material we recycle at Oak Crest.”

Mindlin said it was fun and challenging to take the English curriculum and turn it into something so important to the community and the environment. He said the project gave students real-world experience in researching and becoming knowledgeable about recycling and learning to communicate to their school community.

To start their OC Recycles campaign, the group conducted an inventory of all the outdoor trash and recycling containers on campus.

“We were amazed to find 47 trash containers and only seven recycling containers, and the recycling containers were not well-marked,” Joey said.

The students quickly decided that 47 trash containers were too many.

The group got “down and dirty,” looking through the trash to see what materials could be recycled. A preliminary waste audit at Oak Crest indicated the 30 to 35 percent recycling rate and they set a lofty goal of 80 percent.

“We know what students at Oak Crest are like and so we knew in order to make our recycling program work, we needed to make it easy,” Melissa said. “And to make it easy, we had to have a recycling container right next to every trash container.”

They made a recommendation that the campus needed only 25 trash and recycling sets, and researched, selected and purchased containers.

The class came up with a communication plan for their target audience. Through posters and announcements, they informed students and staff about what could be recycled and what was trash, creating artwork that would be made into OC Recycles stickers.

The class’s plan was to have all the containers prepared and the program ready to begin on April 13 when students arrived back from spring break. Ashley Atempa, Juan, Jonathon, Eric and Ashley Moore took out time from their vacations to put stickers on all the containers and arrange the inside and outside containers so OC Recycles could hit the ground running.

In the first week of recycling, the campus recycling rate improved from 35 percent to almost 60 percent. Custodian Jesse Medina said there was a dramatic reduction in trash collected, so the class recommended changing the trash service from three times to twice a week. Service was later reduced to once weekly.

The students also reviewed the materials that were going into the recycling and trash containers. Joey said they noted students were throwing paper bags and drink cups from Starbucks into the trash container. To combat the problem, the class made announcements that those items were recyclable and saw a marked improvement.

The students made sure to thank all the Oak Crest staff members as well as Dean and Bill Wilson from the city of Encinitas for their support and having the confidence that they would reach their goals.

“We have learned a lot and we are very proud of what we have accomplished,” Ashley Moore said.