Kalmalka students promote Litterless Lunch. (Contributed)

Vernon school digs up $2,500 recycling prize

Kalamalka Secondary students recognized for establishing a new culture of recycling

Every day, the students of Kalamalka Secondary often eat lunch and participate in class activities in the natural outdoor environment adjacent the emerald-green waters of Kalamalka Lake.

But, until the Environment Club was started two years ago, students and staff alike had little awareness of the amount of materials ending up in the school’s waste bins. Now, a $2,500 cash prize from the Return-It School Contest is being awarded to the school in recognition of a host of green initiatives that are significantly reducing waste while promoting education on a range of sustainability topics.

Return-It’s School Contest is focused on empowering the leaders of tomorrow by providing an incentive for elementary, middle and high school students in B.C. to take their recycling initiatives to the next level, and share their stories of making a difference in their own school and community. More than 2 million students have been inspired by the Return-It School program over the last 19 years. Last year alone, 287 schools took part.

Supported by an improved recycling system that accommodates a wider range of materials, students have recycled close to 10,000 beverage containers. The ambitious target has prompted more frequent pickups from the local Return-It depot in Vernon.

“Recycling is the cornerstone of environmental action in our communities, and it remains a critical part of the solution for keeping our oceans and waterways clean,” said Allen Langdon, President and CEO of Return-It. “The students at Kalamalka Secondary have taken recycling to the next level by extending the circular economy concept to organics and an impressive school garden. It’s inspiring to see the results that can be achieved when a dedicated group of kids is motivated by a common goal.”

“Our students are fortunate to head outdoors for class lessons, sit outside at lunch, and spend much of their free time at the lake,” said Kelly Challen, a teacher at Kalamalka Secondary. “We’ve always had a shared appreciation for our natural environment, but we weren’t collectively aware of the amount of waste being generated at our school. Winning the Return-It School Contest will enable us to build on the good work being done by our Environment Club – both in terms of establishing new programs, and promoting awareness.”

In addition to recycling bin enhancements, the new green initiatives include:

  • A composting system, launched in partnership with a local farm
  • Craft workshops to make reusable packaging (such as Beeswax wrap)
  • Litterless Lunch Week, including raffles for bringing litter-free lunches
  • A school-wide switch from plastic to metal utensils
  • ‘School Strikes for Climate’ to raise awareness of the issue and advocate for change
  • A school garden

The composting system has been a particularly big success; the initiative has already required an upgrade from a 238-litre container to a much larger, three-yard bin. Both students and staff have started composting everything from food scraps and paper towels to chopsticks and paper plates. Those materials in turn support the school’s ‘Kalagarden’, which has yielded a plentiful variety of vegetables and herbs.

Return-It has been educating elementary, middle and high school students across B.C. about recycling for the past 19 years. As the organization celebrates its 25th anniversary of environmental stewardship, the School Contest continues to underpin a mandate of empowering change through education.

Related: Vernon pilots organic recycling

Related: Recycling ambassadors head back to Okanagan streets

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