Maple Hill Elementary began to collect empty juice pouches at lunchtime back in May of 2009. “As soon as I learned of this recycling opportunity through TerraCycle, I was intrigued,” said Mrs. Nancy Sasso Janis, a first grade teacher at the school. “A method to keep trash out of landfills and raise needed funds at the same time sounded almost too good to be true.” After the students empty the pouches and remove the straw, Mrs. Janis slits the bottom, rinses them out with water (to discourage “critters” while the pouches await shipment) and dries them, usually on her clothesline. “I am old-school enough to have two at my home.” Then they are sorted, counted and packaged in boxes for free shipment to TerraCycle in New Jersey. This upstart company, founded by a Princeton graduate, takes this waste and “upcyles” them into cool new products, like juice pouch pencil bags, tote bags, backpacks, and lunchboxes. More importantly, they reward nonprofits with approximately two cents for each pouch they collect.
“The first summer, we got a check for $3.00.” said Mrs. Janis, “but last year was a huge one for us.” Students collected an average of 100 pouches each day, so every two weeks they filled and mailed out a box of one thousand. Maple Hill joined another brigade and began to collect empty Lunchables trays. Many teachers began to allow students to collect the juice pouches they had for snack time because the children did not want to throw them away. In the spring, WalMart briefly carried a selection of TerraCycle products and Maple Hill students and staff cleaned out the inventory in no time. By the end of the year, the total number of pouches collected exceeded 20,000.
This past summer Maple Hill received a check for $357.46 and used the money to purchase ten cases of mostly recycled copy paper. One ream will be distributed to all classroom teachers throughout the school year for their use. The school also joined two other brigades and now collects gum packaging and chip bags. “We have a large display of everything we upcycle and the products they become in our lobby and a comprehensive TerraCycle page on our school web site,” said Mrs. Janis, who also serves as the school webmaster. “I post the current totals of everything we collect so that students can see how we are doing. I especially appreciate the fact that we are teaching our students the value of upcycling and raising needed funds at the same time. Our young students don’t remember a time when they didn’t recycle, so it was very easy to convince them to buy into the program.“
This year many students collected pouches over the summer and in the first twelve days of school they passed the 30,000 mark. At the end of September, the public relations department of TerraCycle informed Maple Hill that they had been named one of the Top 100 Brigades in the country. ‘You have helped us reach an incredible milestone! Thanks to your participation, TerraCycle® has collected more than 50 million drink pouches and paid $1 million to charities and non-profits. Together, the drink pouches would fill 480 football fields if laid side by side and would weigh the equivalent of 20 school buses,” Emily Bradford, of the TerraCycle PR department, said. “We are quite excited about this and the main thing we plan to do is give a big THANK YOU to the top 100 schools that have collected the most for the Drink Pouch Brigade. We will be sending the schools a special certificate of recognition and a unique and specially made frame, made from shredded and compressed juice pouches, that will hold the certificate.” “To place in the top 100 out of over 46,000 locations is an amazing honor,” said Mrs. Janis, “and a testament to all our student, teachers and staff who have supported this program.” Mrs. Janis and the Maple Hill TerraCycle brigades will also be recognized in November at the Connecticut Association of School (CAS) banquet for exemplary school programs.
Nancy Sasso Janis
Maple Hill School