Lori Kotrly and her family have been stepping on their bathroom scale to keep an eye on their waste line. They're hoping to be the biggest losers.
For the past month, the Kotrlys and 56 other families at Brookfield Elementary School participated in the Reduce Your Waste Stream Challenge, a friendly competition among households to see how much they can reduce their waste and increase their recycling.
"I've always been cautious of what I throw away and try to reuse things. It was eye-opening to see how much weight we throw away in a week," said Kotrly, adding that she can't fathom how the refuse collection centers deal with it all.
The challenge brought change to Kotrly's household. She buys concentrated juice now - the containers are much smaller - and pours it from reusable pitchers. It adds up when you're a family of eight.
The Reduce Your Waste Stream Challenge started in 2010 when Waukesha County Recycling partnered with the Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin to develop the project as a sustainable teaching tool for the community.
It's the first time the challenge has made its way to the Elmbrook School District.
Dustin Nolan, a recycling specialist at Waukesha County Recycling, said the goals of the project are "to create awareness in the community about waste reduction and recycling and inspire a behavior-changing experience for those involved."
Nolan provides an educational component at no cost to the district. It includes recycling workshops and management of the challenge's Internet forum. Families are encouraged to post weekly updates and photos. They can even get their questions - like can cat box litter go in the compost (it can't), and can I recycle my hairspray cans? (you can) - answered.
Families start with a baseline week, measuring in pounds a typical amount of trash generated by the household, weighing both trash and recyclables. They spend the next four weeks trying to improve their weights.
In prior challenges, Nolan said, households have reduced waste as much as 45 percent and increased recycling by 66 percent.
It adds up
In the original 2010 Challenge, Waukesha County calculated that if only one quarter of the 88,000 households in the 25 partnering Waukesha County communities yielded the same results as the average challenge household, 7,200 tons of garbage would be diverted from landfills and more than 5,800 tons of additional material would be recycled each year.
If those numbers don't resonate, taxpayers should know that the revenue Waukesha County makes selling recycled material on the commodities market goes back to communities, offsetting cost for garbage collection and other services.
Fourth-grade teacher Meghan Schneeweis leads the Brookfield Elementary Green Team, a group of eight students who educate and present to their fellow classmates how to help the school be more environmentally conscious. The team helped bring more recycling bins into the school and they're quick to point out that the piece of paper someone just put in the trash should actually go into the blue bin.
Like her students, Schneeweis is learning a lot as she participates in the challenge, and she's finding collection days can't come soon enough.
"I'm having trouble with my recycling in Menomonee Falls because they collect only every other week," she said. "It's starting to pile up; I don't know where to go with it all."
|Kotrly weekly weigh-in||BaselineWeek||Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
|G= garbageR= recyclables(in pounds)||44.2 g 17.3 r||37 g 30.2 r||35.2 g 21.2 r||42 g 21.2 r||44.2 g21.4 r|
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