by Dennis Dalman
They’re not only the youngest competitors in the region, but they are also the best – “they” being the 28 members of the Sartell Middle School’s YES! waste-reduction team.
The winning seventh-grade science team will attend a Minnesota Twins game at Target Field May 20. There they will be honored, along with three other winning regional YES! teams, their team photos filling the giant screen in the baseball stadium.
YES! is short for “Youth Eco Solutions.” It’s a program that focuses on the importance of a healthy, clean environment. The 28 seventh-graders, members of an SMS enriched-science class, are all in the YES! program, and their team won first-place honors for their project of Waste Reduction last week in the West Central Region competition. There are four YES! regions in Minnesota, with a total of 28 teams. The four winning teams were all automatically entered into a competition for statewide champion, and that winner will be announced during the May 20 Twins game.
On the afternoon of May 9, the SMS YES! team members were honored in the school. They were given a “surprise” check for $500, presented by Ali Dahmes of Spicer, a regional coordinator for the YES! program. She, along with SMS YES! team coaches Gina Anderson and Amanda Holstrom then enjoyed ice-cream bars and popsicles with the winners and some of their parents. Anderson is a seventh-grade SMS science teacher; Holstrom is an SMS technology specialist who helped the students create the YES! website.
The team was honored as tops by regional judges in three categories: goal setting/teamwork, community engagement and ecological impact.
At the honors ceremony, six members of the team took turns sharing with listeners what they had accomplished for the YES! competition.
There were many aspects to the team’s Waste Reduction program, and all included education outreach, raising of awareness and specific actions. For example, the team started a paper-waste reduction program at SMS and made posters urging staff and students to reduce or recycle sheets of paper. They requested people put a mark on any sheet of paper that was saved or recycled. All told, in just one week’s time, the YES! team concluded their efforts had resulted in keeping 15,000 sheets of paper out of the waste stream.
The team also put up several recycle bins in the lunchroom to enhance the SMS food-compost program. Then they encouraged everyone to recycle their milk cartons – something that hadn’t been possible before, but is now. The YES! team took that a step further, however. They are checking into having milk dispensers in the lunch room for next year so students can get milk from the dispensers rather than individual milk cartons.
During the year, the YES! team hosted fundraisers to raise money for their projects.
One of those projects was the creation of a nifty website named A Culture of Waste. The site, with lots of links, is an educational tool that features statistics, trivia games, brief tests, charts, graphs, photos and graphics. The site is, in fact, a virtual textbook on the topic of waste and the options for good waste-reduction projects.
According to information on the Culture of Waste website, the United States is No. 1 in the generation of wasted products – an estimated total of about 258 million tons per year. Second is China, followed by Brazil, Japan and Germany.
The percentages of waste generated are paper 26.6 percent; food waste 14.98 percent; yard trimmings 13.3 percent; plastic products 12.8 percent; metals 9 percent; rubber, leather, textiles 9.5 percent; wood products 6.2 percent; glass 4.4 percent; and others 3.2 percent.
Where do those waste products end up? More than half of them, about 53 percent, are dumped in landfills, but the good news is 34.6 percent are recycled and/or composted and 12.8 percent are used for combustion/energy recovery programs.
And that is the aim of the award-winning YES! team – to educate and convince others to be less wasteful, to recycle or compost what they no longer need or want, and to promote all efforts to make possible a safer, healthier environment for all people.