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North Hills Monthly

Students, Businesses Lead in Innovative Recycling Initiatives

Mar 31, 2015 09:55AM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch
Remember when the three ‘Rs’ were Reading, (W)riting and ‘Rithmetic? Now, the three ‘Rs’ refer to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

While they still certainly teach the traditional ‘Rs’ at Shaler Area High School, the kids in the gifted program (GATE) have begun an innovative recycling initiative to recycle K-cups, the leftover plastic individual coffee containers used in Keurig brand coffeemakers. Based on an informal school-wide survey conducted in January, they learned that virtually everyone who owns a Keurig throws away the K-cups, which end up in landfills.

In February, the GATE students and students in the afterschool Ecology Club collected more than 3,600 used K-cups from the entire student body and staff, which amounted to 182 pounds of non-recycled goods. They then took them apart, which, though a labor intensive process, is one that the students have wholeheartedly embraced, learning about repurposing as they go.

The township recycles the aluminum foil, and the leftover coffee grounds are compostable, but the actual plastic cups are not recyclable by municipalities, nor can they be sent back to the company as of yet. Instead, the GATE students will turn them into planters for seedlings.

“We really thought of it as a way to save money on planters, since we grow all of the vegetables in the Garden of Etna from seeds in our school’s greenhouse,” said Christina Palladino, GATE teacher. “We’ve partnered with them for five years, growing hundreds and hundreds of seedlings.”

The students plan to enter their project in the Fairchild Challenge sponsored by Phipps Conservatory; the school won the challenge in 2011 for their partnership with the Garden of Etna. “We wanted them to have awareness about what one person does to create problems in the environment, and what one person can do to change it,” said Palladino.

Have you ever thought about what happens to batteries after they’ve died? Well, it all depends on the battery’s chemistry, said Jim Logan, owner of Battery Giant in Cranberry, which sells all types of batteries for commercial and retail customers. For example, it is mandated by state law that lead-containing batteries be recycled by the manufacturer, and lithium batteries need to be recycled due to their potential fire hazard.

To raise awareness about the importance of battery recycling, Battery Giant is holding its third annual Student Battery Recycling Challenge between April 1 and 22, which encourages students from preschool through high school to bring in batteries for recycling purposes. Not only is April 22 Earth Day, but it is also the de facto third anniversary of Battery Giant.

The student who collects the most batteries will receive a $500 award to be donated to his or her school. “Every time a student recycles a battery, that school is entered to win $500,” said Logan. The more batteries that students bring in, the more chances their schools have. As an added incentive, students will receive coupons for Fun Fore All and The Meadows Original Frozen Custard.

Last year, Battery Giant collected 3,963 pounds of batteries during the challenge, which were then sent out for recycling. “As a business, we sell things that ought to be recycled, so we want to be responsible to recycle it all,” said Logan.

This year, he is also offering a Student Leadership Award. “A student that leads a campaign effort, who brings in the most batteries from his or her school, will receive an award and a $100 donation to that school,” said Logan, adding that he wants students to take the initiative rather than parents. “We are very happy to support student leaders who want to go for the most batteries collected.”

Novak Auto Parts in New Sewickley Township also incorporates community responsibility into their business philosophy. A family business in operation since 1958, it is owned by Penny Novak and her husband, Roger. Even before the green movement took hold and before regulations were in place, Novak Auto Parts was on the forefront of recycling, and they continue to keep up with new technologies.

“We basically buy cars at auction that have been wrecked in some capacity, and consider it our job is to recycle them safely—and by that I mean for environmental purposes,” said Penny Novak.

Penny & Roger Novak
While part of what they do is because of their commitment to the environment, they also do it to be responsible community members. “Everyone around here uses well water. There is no way we are going to contaminate that,” she said.

Anything that can be salvaged from the car will be. “When the fluids are drained, the oil is used in our waste-oil burning furnaces. The windshield washer fluid, antifreeze and Freon are bottled and sold. Next we remove the engine and transmission, after which the remainder of the car is put in the auto recycling yard, where various parts are sold over a period of time. Finally, the skeleton is taken to the scrap metal recycling plant. The recycling never stops!” said Novak, adding that aluminum brackets and copper wiring are also removed from cars.

“A car is the most recycled consumer product that there is,” she added, “and it’s come a long way from what it used to be. It saves millions of barrels of oil a year. And to buy a recycled part rather than generate a new part saves a lot of energy.”