April 2, 2012 the Green Cup Recycle Challenge will begin for thousands of students across America. The Green Cup Recycle Challenge is a four week competition that teaches children the proper way to recycle, reduce waste consumption, decrease contamination and raise awareness. K-12 schools that are sponsored by the non-profit Green Schools Alliance (GSA) will compete against one another for the championship title for the highest percentage of zero contamination in recycle bins.

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Studies have shown that we can recycle or compost at least 75% of what we throw away. But if someone throws food into the paper recycling bin, that food can contaminate most of that bin and it can no longer be recycled. That’s why the Green Cup Recycle Challenge teaches children to “recycle right,” and not just recycle. Fiona Caulfield, a 4th grader at Bullis school in Potomac, Maryland, said she learned a lot about proper sorting of recyclables during the Challenge last year. “It made me feel like a better person,” she said.

For four weeks, trash cans and recycle bins will be checked for contamination and then submitted via survey. The survey collects data about how many trash cans and recycle bins were correct or incorrect throughout the school. This process helps students identify “hot spots” where recycling can be improved with better signs or find a new place for the bins.

The school is then graded on the percentage of correct bins and the averages are combined for the total score. Last year, the Langley School in McLean, Virginia, became the “Recycling Champion”  winner with an overall zero contamination in 85% of its bins. “Our middle schoolers’ leadership to increase recycling and reduce trash has been inspiring, and we have seen real change as a result of their work,” says Kathleen Smith, Langley’s Director of Academics.

This year a bonus system will be set forth for schools who expand their recycling program for items like food waste, ink cartridges, electronic waste, textiles, bottle caps, construction debris and even for doing waste audits, switching from disposables to reusables (cafeteria trays, plates, cups, utensils, water bottles), implementing paperless communication, and adopting policies for the purchasing of local and recycled products.

Schools can register for the Green Cup Recycle Challenge until tomorrow Friday, March 30th, 2012.

+ Green Cup Recycle Challenge

+ Green Schools Alliance