MANCHESTER — After about a half-hour of picking through four, 40-gallon bags of garbage, the students didn't smell so hot but they had reduced the amount of refuse heading into the dump by 80 percent.
"This is really fun," said Central High School freshman Liza Goodman, director of the Key Club, whose 100 members combed through a day's worth of garbage — between 8,000 to 10,000 pounds — produced by the school's 2,000-plus students. "I don't care if I smell like trash all day."
The recycling event was part of the "Trash on the Lawn Day" held on America Recycles Day. The garbage was taken from classrooms and the cafeteria and, under the guidance of Cindy Sterling and Caitlin Meaney, both of the Northeast Resource Recovery Association's School Recycling Club, students sorted it into 10 bins — eight for recycling and two for trash — and three, five-gallon buckets for compost.
The kids didn't find anything unexpected in the heaping pile of trash, at least in the first sorting hour, but they learned what could be recycled — like the foil tops of yogurt containers — and that pencils, along with banana peels, paper towels, napkins and muffin wrappers can go into the compost pile.
Wads of gum, on the other hand, went directly into the trash because, Sterling explained, gum takes "forever to break down."
Meaney said Central volunteered to be part of a pilot school recycling program this school year. The Northeast Resource Recovery Association has already placed recycling bins for various items in all the school's classrooms and in the cafeteria.
The recycling program is also taking place at Hillside Middle School and at the Weston School and is made possible with funding from New Hampshire the Beautiful in cooperation with the school district, the city, Waste Management, which has the recycling contract for the Manchester School District, and Aramark.
Meaney said the school district can expect to save about $4,000 a year from the recycling programs at just the three schools. The city has 23 schools, so if the program was placed in those schools as well, the savings could be significant.
The disposal cost for a 10-yard container of garbage is $40, she said, while a 10-yard container of recycled items costs $13. Already, the city has placed smaller trash bins at Central because, with the implementation of the recycling program, the larger bins are not being filled.
"It's cost-effective," said Shelli Cook, guidance counselor and faculty adviser to the Key Club, a community and school service group sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Hooksett. "In the district we know we could use that money for other things."
Getting students to recycle items will involve a lot of retraining but a lot of them already do it at home, Cook said, since the city distributed blue recycling bins to households.