By Anna Finer
First Person 

RecycleJ-let's do our part to keep recycling working!


April 10, 2020

Anna Finer

For the past several months, I have been working on "RecycleJ," a new recycling program for The Roth Family Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando. I was prepared to introduce RecycleJ to the preschool students at the Richard S. Adler Early Childhood Learning Center during their Shabbat assembly on Friday morning, March 13.

But suddenly, COVID-19 uprooted our lives, and by late Thursday afternoon, the Shabbat assembly was canceled, and then the classrooms were restricted, and then all local schools were closed, including the JCC preschool.

The national Girl Scout motto is "Be prepared," and that sometimes means we have to move to Plan B. Please read and share this with your children, and by the time the JCC reopens, we will be ready to trash COVID-19 and recycle like pros.

I attended preschool at The Roth Family JCC and joined Girl Scout Troop 857 in kindergarten. We are now juniors in high school. In Girl Scouts, we learn various skills and earn awards for mastering those skills. Our troop earned the Bronze and Silver awards through projects we completed together. For the Silver award, our troop collected hundreds of books and created a library for the Engelwood Neighborhood Center.

The highest award in Girl Scouts is the Gold Award, and this requires a solo project, which teaches us to plan and implement a sustainable program that fills a need in the community. I am very excited to start this recycling program at the JCC for my Gold award. Recycling is an important habit, and it is important for children to learn why and how to participate. The recycling program also models several of the core elements of the JCC's "Sheva" framework for early childhood Jewish education: children as constructivist learners, families as engaged partners, and environments as inspiration for inquiry. Recycling education will help inspire children to understand their environment and the impact that they can make individually and as a group. 

In Maitland, Fla., where the Roth JCC is located, "single stream" recycling is now in place, meaning that separate bins are no longer required for plastic and paper. The City of Maitland will recycle everything in one bin-all clean and dry paper products, cardboard, magazines, junk mail, aluminum cans and foil, steel/tin cans, all plastics, glass bottles and jars, and aseptic and gable-top containers (milk and juice cartons). All this gets sorted by machines at a regional recycling center. Think about all of the paper and plastic that we have been throwing in the trash at the JCC that could be recycled.

The biggest recycling challenge right now is that many people are recycling the wrong things, which is called contaminated recycling. Contamination results in entire bins being rejected and taken to the landfill instead of being recycled. The average contamination rate is about 25 percent, meaning about 1 in 4 items placed in recycling bins are not actually recyclable. If we want our recycling program to work, we need to pay closer attention to what we are putting in the bins.

Recycling instructions are not consistent and can differ between counties and cities. (For example, some areas limit the types of plastic that can be included in the bins.) As recycling becomes trickier, people become confused and sometimes lazy-"wishcycling" or throwing in what they want to be recyclable rather than what is permitted.

The biggest contamination problems are plastic bags, food waste, and hazardous waste. Plastic bags can be recycled separately in bins outside the grocery store. Consider a composter for vegetable waste-Orange County provides free composters, and composted soil is great for the garden. Check your county website on where hazardous waste can be dropped off. Hazardous waste products include paint, batteries, fluorescent lightbulbs, cooking oil, cleaning fluids, pool chemicals, and anything with a label with warnings like "pesticide" or "poison." Do not contaminate recycling bins with any of this!

For quick answers, the City of Orlando's "What Goes Where" web page is helpful-just type in the item and get answers on what to do with it. Aluminum foil? Garbage. Mattress? Schedule a pickup. Wrapping paper? Recycle. But what about glitter wrapping paper? Garbage!

To plan and implement RecycleJ, I researched recycling restrictions and costs, met with JCC staff, and communicated with the City of Maitland. I funded the project by holding a garage sale at my house, babysitting, and even selling a few of my dad's many record albums. (If anyone wants to buy one of his international folk dancing albums, such as The Music of Macedonia, we have a few left!) With this money, I purchased recycling bins for each of the preschool classrooms, and large bins for other areas in the JCC. Signs with pictures are ready to go up to guide the children, and a recycling activity for the teachers.

I am very thankful for the opportunity that The Roth Family JCC CEO Keith Dvorchik and The Richard S. Adler Early Childhood Director Melissa Youngblood gave me to make this happen. I look forward to rescheduling RecycleJ as soon as the doors open again. We will sing the "Recycle, Recycle, Recycle Now!" song that our wonderful music teacher of 36 years, Ms. Cotter, actually recycled from several years ago and taught the children, and we will learn together in person.

In the meantime, let's start practicing proper recycling at home, and please let me know if you have any ideas to improve the project. Thanks for your support!


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