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City program supports growing sustainability across every Gresham school district

Highland Elementary School has come up with an innovative way to deal with confusion about what is or isn't recyclable.

Led by the efforts of the student Green Team, the school has implemented a "Wonderbox" to avoid waste mistakes. The boxes are placed next to the trash and recycling bins in each classroom, and are for any items that students don't know the proper place for. After the final bell, members of the Green Team go through the "Wonderboxes" and sort the materials based on where they belong.

"At the end of the day they check the boxes and let the class know where those things should go," said Meghan Borato, city of Gresham waste reduction specialist, during an update to the Gresham City Council Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 9.

Highland's system is just one of the recent efforts by the region's schools, which have been working alongside the Gresham Green Schools program to engage youth in sustainability efforts while reducing operational costs through energy efficiency, water conservation and waste prevention opportunities.

"It's good to have the city involved because I remember years ago when my kids were in school it was all a teacher-driven effort," said Councilor David Widmark.

The city program offers free technical assistance and resources to schools in Gresham. The team conducts free evaluations of existing recycling systems and makes recommendations. In the 2017-18 school year, Gresham Green Schools provided technical assistance and green team support to 28 schools, reaching more than 16,000 students across the Gresham-Barlow, Reynolds and Centennial school districts.

There is a lot to celebrate in the community. Gresham-Barlow is the first district in the state to implement composting at all of its schools.

"It's important to involve the youth," said Councilor Janine Gladfelter," because what happens in our landfills today will affect their tomorrows."

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