Easy being green: Seitz Middle School earns top honors for third year

Photo by Sue Suchyta


Seitz Middle School seventh-graders Savannah Sass (left) and Maggie Wood rinse and air dry juice drink pouches collected in the school cafeteria. The previously nonrecyclable material is sent to TerraCycle Inc. in Trenton, N.J., where it is converted into products and materials. The school receives small cash incentives, which it uses to fund other green initiatives.

‘The laundry detergent that we make doesn’t create as much suds, and it doesn’t increase the population of algae and stuff, so the lake doesn’t dry out.’
— Savannah
Sass

By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

RIVERVIEW – Going green used to mean wearing team colors or feeling under the weather.

Now it describes an eco-friendly commitment, one that has earned Seitz Middle School in Riverview the designation of a Michigan Green School for the third year in a row.

Created by the Michigan Green School Act passed by state legislators in 2006, the designation is given to schools that engage in certain environmentally conscious activities. Criteria relate to resources, energy, the environment and other related projects, which include education and field trips.

To members of Seitz’s ECO HOPE Club, green means a fun way to spend time with friends while learning about earth-friendly practices in order to help make a difference in their school’s environmental footprint.

“I joined to help the environment and hang out with my friends at the same time,” said Maggie Wood, a seventh-grader who recently drew a winning poster in a contest marking a recent Riverview Land Preserve electronic recycling event.

Emily Douglas, a seventh-grader who took second place in the same contest, agreed.

“I thought it would be fun and I have some friends in here, and we try to do green stuff,” she said.

In addition to recycling, students have learned about ways to reduce energy consumption.

“My family, I always yell at them, ‘Hey, turn that light out!’” seventh-grader Savannah Sass said. “My family saves a big bag of bottle caps every week that we recycle here.”

“It’s actually pretty neat to see all the things that we can recycle,” seventh-grader Ana Pauli said.

In addition to the bottle caps, students recycle cork stoppers from wine bottles, snack bags, juice boxes and electronic and computer items and byproducts.

Faculty sponsor Debra Meeks said Seitz became a Michigan Green School by completing more than 20 of the requirements listed at www.michigangreenschools.us/20points.

The school initiated many recycling programs, some of which funded its other green initiatives. In addition to traditionally recycled materials like paper, students collect, clean and send previously unrecyclable material to TerraCycle Inc. in Trenton, N.J., where it is converted into products and materials. In return the school receives small cash incentives, which it uses to fund other green initiatives.

With a business plan officials call “eco-capitalism,” the company uses post-consumer materials to make new consumer products through “upcycling,” reusing waste materials that are otherwise difficult to recycle. It makes children’s backpacks from used drink pouches, as turns waste packaging into products like cell phone holders, laptop sleeves and messenger bags.

“When I go home after this club I tell my mom – who usually has a little bag of chips – to recycle that when she’s done, and put it in my recycling bin,” Pauli said. “Then I can bring it here and it will get shipped off with all the other ones.”
Pauli, who originally had thought about becoming a math teacher, now is thinking about becoming an elementary science teacher.

The ECO HOPE Club also started making environmentally friendly laundry detergent, which members distribute in repurposed traditional laundry soap plastic containers.

“I didn’t realize that regular laundry detergent actually killed the water that much,” Savannah Sass said. “The laundry detergent that we make doesn’t create as much suds, and it doesn’t increase the population of algae and stuff, so the lake doesn’t dry out.”

Meeks said students ask their customers to send in empty laundry detergent containers for reuse. The students sell the detergent they make for $3 a bottle, and make a small profit, which they use to support their other activities.

Club customers have said members’ fragrance-free, natural laundry detergent actually helps lessen eczema outbreaks among sensitive individuals who use it to wash their clothes. Meeks said members have shared their recipe, found online, with some original customers who now make their own.

Students looked at the school’s energy usage and sponsored an energy-free day April 13, measuring how much energy they saved and its estimated cost.

“Teachers didn’t use their computers, their ELMOs (document cameras), their LCD projectors, their lights were off,” Meeks said. “Luckily we had a nice sunny day for it.”

Teachers then documented how much they use their computers, and together with club members determined total energy used and the amount of money saved. They then relayed the information to the rest of the school. “I think it will make people more aware and more conscious of some of their energy usages,” Meeks said.

Each year students “vote” for an endangered animal to sponsor by putting coins in jars and this year voted to sponsor a giant panda. Last year they sponsored a Siberian tiger.

The money is sent to the World Wide Fund for Nature an international nongovernmental organization formerly named the World Wildlife Fund, which remains its official name in Canada and the United States.

The school receives a symbolic stuffed plush animal to display in their school showcase.

Other group projects have included refurbishing some of the school’s library furniture instead of disposing of it and buying new. The school’s parent group provided the initial funding, and the ECO HOPE Club has been saving money to continue the project.

The club also subsidizes local field trips to gather recyclable materials.

“As you can imagine, rifling through trash is not the most glorious of jobs for them to do, but they keep coming back,” Meeks said. “I try to reiterate that this stuff, if we don’t recycle it, ends up in your backyard.”

The fact that the city operates a landfill makes that term even more literal, she said.

“I think that kind of strikes home with the kids as well,” she said.

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