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Environmental Education Program to be held for fifth graders

By Staff | Nov 8, 2018

Fifth grade students of Lee County will soon have the opportunity to visit the Lee County Material Recovery Facility and Waste to Energy Facility to have a better understanding of recycling and reducing waste.

Lee County Solid Waste Division spokesperson Molly Schweers said the environmental education program has been in the works for a couple of years. The program was held before the recession hit through an arrangement with the Lee County School District for fifth and eighth grade students to visit the recycling plant, so they could see the process.

On Nov. 6, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners approved an agreement to fund the environmental education program for fifth grade students in Lee County public schools. The county will provide $65,000 to fund a school staff member and school bus transportation for approximately 5,000 fifth grade students. The program will kick off during the spring semester.

Schweers said they are doing it as a pilot program with the hopes of continuing it for another five years.

“We will be testing the kids’ knowledge and understanding of recycling before they get here. The educators are working with programming in the classroom,” she explained.

The testing will be in the form of a survey. At the end of the semester the survey will be conducted again to see how much of the knowledge stuck.

After the teachers work with the students in the classroom through lessons, the program will culminate with a field trip to the Lee County Material Recovery Facility and Waste To Energy Facility, at 10500 Buckingham Road, Fort Myers.

“People of any age, seeing the recycling plant at work really helps with comprehension of what materials we accept and don’t accept,” Schweers said.

The materials accepted include paper, metal cans, cardboard boxes without a waxed coating, plastic containers with the numbers one through seven and glass.

The presentation at the facility will last for approximately 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the questions the students ask. The presentation will be given in a big glass classroom on the second floor of the Material Recycling Facility. Schweers said the students will be looking down on the recycling floor.

“We have 16 different cameras stationed on the plant, so they can see on the camera what is not visible to them,” she said.

The students will also have the opportunity to visit a few areas of the plant to better understand what happens with the stinky trash, and vegetation left at the curbside.

“It just doesn’t go away, It goes some place. They will know where that place is and what happens to the material there,” Schweers said.

She is excited about the program because it is another way to reach out to the community and educate them about the five materials they accept for recycling. With about 5,000 kids through the field trip, a total of about 20,000 people will be reached through this program.

“Hopefully they will become our ambassadors out in the community and help their parents recycle smart,” Schweers said.

She said about 20 percent of the materials placed in the recycling bin are not one of the five materials they accept.

“I’m currently doing a lot of research on behavior change. I think people are becoming more familiar with the logo and the five (materials), but I’m not seeing the behavior change,” Schweers said.

Lee County is just below the national average for contamination rates, which runs between 20 and 30 percent.

“We are just below the national average, but it is still not good,” she said.

For more information on how to Recycle Smart visit www.leecounty.com/solidwaste.