Cindi Cowie started working at St.Elias Community School, in Haines Junction, four years ago, and has always found recycling and composting to be important. Shortly after she began working at the school, Danny Lewis from Raven Recycling came to Haines Junction and gave a presentation about waste diversion. At the time, the school had a small amount of recycling going on, being lead by Cathy McKinnon, but Cindi was inspired to see how she could expand what was being done.
Through Danny, Cindi was put in touch with David Black at the Yukon Department of Education. David was already working on a recycling pilot project with two schools in Whitehorse and was happy to provide recycling bins for their school; this made things easier for Cindi, since it meant that she wouldn’t have to ask the school for money for the bins. Shortly after that, David and Danny came to the school and gave a presentation about which items went where in the three bins provided: white paper, mixed paper and non-paper items. Each classroom had all three bins, as well as a small compost bin.
At first, it was Cathy and Cindi doing the work of taking all the recyclables to the town’s recycling centre and sorting them. However, over the course of a year they were able to expand the recycling program with the help of the school’s Green Team student members. Ranging from ages 7 to 13, the Green Team’s approximately ten members now go through the school about once a week to collect the bins from all the classrooms and empty them into the larger bins at the main recycling station by the school’s staff room. At the end of the week, a smaller group sorts everything and puts it all in a truck to be taken to the centre.
The Green Team has been going for two years now, and one of the most exciting developments has been that they are now being paid for their recycling and composting efforts. The Department of Education gives them $20 for each compost drop off and $6 for each bag of recycling, which adds up to around $50 every week. Every few months, when the group has approximately $400 collected, they all get together to decide where it should go. They tend to make sure to address any need for funding in the Haines Junction community first, and then will often send some money to groups like the Whitehorse Food Bank and the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter. The group is also supportive of the organization Little Footprints Big Steps, which works with children and youth in Haiti, so some of their money often goes to them as well. At the end of last year, the group also made a donation of $250 to Zero Waste Yukon to support the campaign.
Cindi is impressed by how the program has grown since she first got involved with recycling at the school, and sees waste diversion growing in importance around Haines Junction as well. There are other staff members at the school who support her work, and the principal’s support has really helped the project to continue. As well, the person organizing this year’s Christmas concert is planning a “Green Christmas” with all the props made from re-used materials. Around town, recycling bins are now present at municipal buildings like the skating rink and the community centre; at least one council member is extremely supportive of waste diversion initiatives. Not only that, but the local Champagne Asihik First Nation has just recently started picking up recycling from their member’s houses.
Cindi is looking to the future, and is hoping to bring in a larger bin for cardboard since that is the item that takes up the most space. She also has ambitions for a commercial composter at the school, which could in turn go into a community garden or greenhouse at St. Elias – though she says that it may need to be someone else who takes on that project.
Cindi admits that there’s still a ways to go, but that spreading the word is a good first step. “The whole thing is educating people and getting them to be open to it,” she says, “many people don’t see recycling as an option and it’s a challenge to get people to change their habits.” Fortunately, recycling also has the support of an extremely influential group of people: the town’s kids, who are encouraging their parents to increase their own recycling after seeing it being done at their school.