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Murray Journal

McMillan students recycle plastic bags used for school breakfasts, keeping them out of landfills

Dec 14, 2020 12:22PM ● By Julie Slama

On a weekly basis, McMillan Elementary sixth-grade students recycle plastic bags that were used for free breakfasts. (Kerri McCullough/McMillan Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

The USDA has granted free breakfast and lunch for students this school year during the COVID-19 pandemic. At McMillan Elementary, there are about 150 students who claim a plastic bag breakfast, which is then eaten in their classrooms.

“The plastic bags are coming from a free breakfast program that we are so grateful to have, but we have to prepackage the breakfasts to help with social distancing efforts,” McMillan Principal Hannah Dolata said.

That has meant more plastic bags were thrown away.

“It’s just appalling to think that all these bags are going in the garbage,” McMillan Library Specialist Corey Peterson said. “Just because we’re trying to be safe with COVID-19, it doesn’t mean we have to go backwards with the environment.”

Peterson, supported by Dolata and sixth-grade teacher Rebecca Elder, started the school’s plastic bag recycling program in November. Each classroom is given a box to allow students to place their bags in after they eat breakfast. Then, once each week, two sixth-grade students, wearing gloves, collect the bags in a custodial garbage bag, pushing it on a cart from room to room.

“The students are excited to see how many they can collect,” Peterson said. “The kids are pretty stoked.”

Dolata said that participating in the recycling program and other duties that help to take care of the school, like safety patrol, flag duty, and helping with library book collection, have been “great ways for the kids to stay connected and positive at school even when the school day is so different and has less social interaction than they are used to. I am so grateful to the teachers and staff who have helped to keep a focus on civic duties at school by leading students in these efforts. The McMillan faculty and staff amaze me every day with their positivity and commitment to supporting every child in our school.”

Peterson plans to drop off the custodial garbage bags filled with the plastic breakfast bags at the Smith’s in west Murray, who agreed to recycle them.

“We need to make sure that we’re being responsible, and our students understand that,” Peterson said about the school’s 500 students. “These [bags] don’t do anything; they don’t disintegrate, they just float in the air or pollute the ocean. We don’t need 3 million more bags in our ocean.”