Just before lunch Wednesday, Laurel Tegtman, Hazel Quin-ones, Dylan Bagley and Aubrey Campbell left through the Craig Middle School west doors and walked around the corner of the brick building.
In a corner, four blue plastic bins were piled with rocks to keep animals from getting at the contents.
The students scrunched their faces as they lifted the lids to reveal the mess inside.
Old pieces of pizza crust and half-eaten apples filled the bin, emitting a moist, rancid smell.
“It’s been in there for about two weeks,” Hazel said.
It wasn’t a science project gone wrong.
The four seventh-graders are making compost out of leftover lunch food in an effort to reduce trash and provide fertilizer for a classmate’s on-campus vegetable garden.
Ever since Hazel and Laurel spearheaded the composting and recycling project in the fall of 2009, the number of trash bags taken out after each lunch period has been reduced by half.
They give up their lunch every day to stand and direct traffic as part of the project, which is for a gifted and talented class.
Their adviser, science teacher Brynna Vogt, said the original assignment was to assess a problem in the community and find a way to solve it.
“When we get to be adults, the landfills will be almost full,” Hazel said. “We want to keep the waste out of the landfills.”
The girls, who were recently joined by classmates Dylan and Aubrey, said they decided to focus on preserving the future of the environment by starting small.
“I think a lot of people just don’t think about recycling and that kind of stuff,” Laurel said. “We wanted to start with seeing what we could do at our school and then see what happened.”
The group has solicited volunteers to help direct traffic during other lunch periods, and offered incentives like fudge popsicles and a lunch party to those who help by volunteering or recycling.
And the students believe their efforts are working.
“Before, the lunch ladies were taking out nine bags of trash a day,” Laurel said. “Now, I think it’s five.”
Hazel and Laurel didn’t sit down to eat lunch with the rest of their classmates Wednesday.
Instead, they stood by a row of trashcans and cardboard boxes, quietly munching on sandwiches and fruit.
When one of their classmates approached the trash cans, the girls directed them that leftover food goes in the bin on the far left; recyclable bottles and cans go in the next trash can over; chip bags and Capri-Sun juice containers go in their own boxes, to be sent out to raise money for the school.
They’re worth two cents each, Laurel said.
Everything else goes in the trash.
Despite colorful, educational signs and a friendly set-up, some students ignored Laurel and Hazel as they politely pointed out their trash can set-up.
One student shrugged when directed toward the compost, mumbling, “I don’t care” as he dumped the contents of his Styrofoam tray in the trash.
But the students said they’ll continue to stand by their commitment until the last day of school.
“I know we want to help the environment,” Hazel said.
“And educate people,” Laurel added.
Garbage to garden
When the compost is ready, the four students plan to donate it to their gifted and talented classmates, whose community project is to start a vegetable garden on campus.
Vogt said she is amazed by her students’ dedication and vision.
“Recycling is something you really have to go out of your way to do in Craig,” she said. “It’s something where people just don’t see it as standard operation procedure, and hopefully we’ll change that around.”
The quartet said they hoped to take the project to the high school and possibly throughout the district.
They know they aren’t about to save the world.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t help preserve the future of the environment one pizza crust at a time.
“We’re not doing a ton, but it’s the spark to start a fire,” Dylan said.