This September, Stuyvesant’s Environmental Club began to take part in the Brigade programs of TerraCycle, an organization that engages consumers in the collection of recycled packaging and products. With each collected item, TerraCycle offers points that can later be redeemed for charitable monetary compensation.
Founded in 2001 by Tom Szaky, then a 20-year-old Princeton University freshman, TerraCycle began with the production of organic fertilizer by packing liquid worm fecal matter in old soda bottles. Since then, the company has grown into one of the world’s fastest-growing green corporations. According to the organization’s official website, “with more than 20 million people collecting waste in over 20 countries, TerraCycle has diverted billions of units of waste and used them to create over 1,500 different products available at major retailers ranging from Walmart to Whole Foods Market.”
TerraCycle’s Brigade programs offer any organization or company the opportunity to make use of their waste stream. Aimed at eliminating the idea of waste, each Brigade program involves the collection a specific commodity—whether it is bottles, writing utensils, or electronics—previously regarded to be non-recyclable or difficult-to-recycle. Once an organization has selected a specific “Brigade” and has begun to collect waste, TerraCycle offers free shipping of the waste to the TerraCycle facility as well as points for each item collected. TerraCycle points can be redeemed for charitable gifts or a payment of $0.01 per point to a non-profit organization or school of one’s choice.
President of the Environmental Club senior Geyanne Lui first became aware of the importance of recycling when she took AP Environmental Science in 2011. “I noticed that a lot of people didn’t care about recycling—people threw all types of garbage in trash cans labeled specifically for cans and bottles or paper only,” Lui said. “I thought that it was important for there to be a program to show Stuyvesant students how easy it is to recycle as well as how significant it is.”
Looking for a way to bring a more organized recycling system to the school, Lui and the members of the Environmental Club consulted their faculty advisor and biology teacher Marissa Maggio for advice. Maggio had already been aware of TerraCycle, first becoming familiar with the organization through one of the students taking her online Environmental Biology course. In fact, last year, she introduced the Brigade program to her Stuyvesant freshman biology classes and offered extra credit to those that took part in bringing recyclable products from home for TerraCycle. After her students cumulatively raised approximately $150, Maggio thought that the Stuyvesant student body as a whole would be able to raise significantly more money.
With Maggio’s guidance, the members of the Environmental Club decided that TerraCycle would be a great organization to become involved in. In choosing Brigades they believed Stuyvesant students would most efficiently and conveniently contribute to, the club decided on the Chip Bag Brigade due to the sale of chips from the cafeteria vending machines, the Electronics Brigade, and the Flip-Flop Brigade for the summer season that just passed.
“Many schools in the city haves similar recycling programs,” said senior and Environmental Club member Kenneth Zheng. “The elementary school across from Stuyvesant, P.S. 89, is going to have their own TerraCycle program, and we are planning on collaborating with them to ship more recyclable waste together. We are also starting a mentoring program in which members of the Environmental Club volunteer during lunch periods to go over to P.S. 89 to teach the elementary students about recycling.”
However, before the club branches out to help other schools with their environmental cause, its members have been working to establish a structured system of recycling within Stuyvesant. Bins labeled for specific items have been placed in the cafeteria, and during lunch periods, certain club members help to engage other students in Stuyvesant’s TerraCycle Brigades and promote the conservation of resources. Moreover, the Environmental Club has created a recycling drive to collect cell phones, graphing calculators, ink cartridges, keyboards, cameras, and flip-flops.
The Environmental Club has decided to donate the money that is earned from the TerraCycle points to the Sierra Club, an organization that strives to successfully transition into a clean, green energy economy that better serves people and nature. The club members look to raise approximately $5,000 by the end of the school year.
Lui ultimately hopes that Stuyvesant’s TerraCycle Brigades will have both short and long term effects. “For starters, as we are collecting more waste to send out, we are raising more money for our charity that we are going to donate to. But, in the end, I hope that Stuyvesant students will become more accustomed to recycling in school, will not litter the streets, and value the environment more,” Lui said.
Maggio agrees and believes that the new recycling program will set the standard for not only Stuyvesant but also the broader scale of New York City. “Stuyvesant High School has always fostered rigorous academics and has really set the bar for scholarship in schools throughout the region, if not nation. Our [TerraCycle Brigades] can be another instance of how we excel—not just to benefit ourselves, but the environment as a larger whole.”