Hillcrest School students have been successful in having the plastic foam salad trays removed from their lunch room, but they don't know what the chili will be served in next time it's on the menu.
The school's Youth In Action group, which has 75 to 80 members, has been active since last year in gathering recyclables in bins near the school. The students then sell the items to local recycling companies and donate the money to the state's Cheyenne Bottoms wildlife refuge.
The students are well-versed on their garbage:
"A friend's mom told me that every year we throw out enough oil to cause seven Alaskan oil spills," said Lisa Katich, a student.
"It only takes five weeks for Kansas City to fill up (an area the size of) the parking lots at the Chief's and Royal's stadiums," noted Katy Bruner.
"The average person throws out five pounds of garbage a day," said Isaac Hilpman.
THE STUDENTS have set up bins outside the school to collect items that can be recycled easily in the area paper, glass, tin, hard plastic, soft plastic and aluminum. All of the recycling money goes to Cheyenne Bottoms, with the exception of the money the students make recycling paper.
"We want to buy trees, and put a tree back into the ground for the paper we've used," said Helen Tuley, a gifted teacher who sponsors the Hillcrest group.
The students have recently turned their attention to plastic foam, which can't be recycled anywhere in the Midwest and, the students' say, doesn't recycle well anyway. The plastic foam can be made into plastic, but in that process can still give off the same dangerous chemicals it does when burned.
THE STUDENTS' recent campaign to have the plastic foam salad bar trays removed from the lunchroom was successful. They asked other students to sign a petition, and they also put up posters with such messages as "Who's Going to Eat Salad? Not me, no."
Still, explained Eric Bublitz, a student, the YIA members are waiting to see whether chili will be served in the usual plastic foam bowls before they call their efforts a victory.
Not only are the students raising the "environmental consciences" of the lunch staff, they've spread the message to teachers, to the people in the neighborhood and to Alvin's IGA, which will quit selling plastic foam plates and cups.
TULEY RELATED a story about a Hillcrest teacher who didn't want the goods she purchased at a local retail store to be placed in a plastic bag. The clerk insisted that the teacher had to carry the items out of the store in a bag, and they didn't have paper bags.
"So the teacher took the stuff out to the car, dumped it out of the bag and brought the plastic back into the store and said `you deal with it,'" said Tuley.
And, said Tuley, the message is also spreading to other schools. The Hillcrest students plan to loan out their posters, in effect "recycling" them for anti-plastic foam campaigns at other schools.
In time the students hope to bring the anti-plastic foam message to the community as a whole, by protesting at fast food restaurants that use plastic foam containers.
THE YIA students don't focus entirely on environmental issues. They've served lunch at the Salvation Army and last year they collected items to send to Nicaragua. They also have spent some time with residents at Brandon Woods. The idea is to do something positive, without expecting a reward in return, explained Tuley.
Joanie Mullen, a Hillcrest student, said she thinks groups such as YIA are important because they provide students the means to help.
"There has to be a start, and YIA is a start," she said.
Hillcrest's successful YIA group has encouraged other schools to start their own YIA's. Also, the seventh-graders at South Junior High School are working on an environmental awareness project. They spent most of Friday planning ways they could help and are planning to start a recycling drop-off center of their own.