On the morning of America Recycles Day, Nov. 15, at Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District’s Annual Awards Breakfast, the contingency from Wyoming spilled across multiple tables. This year, our city and school district both won awards for their efforts.

Each year, Hamilton County honors individuals, schools, businesses, nonprofits, and city governments for their efforts to reduce waste and increase recycling. This year, the City of Wyoming earned the 2019 Best City Rate—meaning, in short, that Wyoming diverted more waste than any other city in the county last year. Wyoming City Schools were recognized with the Outstanding School Waste Reduction Program award for waste reduction efforts that started in 2016 and continue improving each year.

The City of Wyoming earned its award, thanks to keeping 40.22% of City waste out of the landfill in 2018. That sort of diversion rate was made possible by a community dedicated to recycling—with 95 percent of residents participating in recycling pickup. Wyoming’s yard trimming diversion program and leaf composting program was a big part of the success.

“The leaves-to-mulch program recycles 400-plus tons of leaves annually,” notes Public Works Director Terry Huxel, “which is approximately one-third of the City’s recycled waste per year.” Each spring, finished compost is returned to residents for their gardens and landscaping, with $1,385 donated back by residents last year to help support the program.

Another piece of Wyoming’s growing waste reduction effort is the pilot compost program at the community garden, and to which four Wyoming restaurants have now committed to bring their kitchen scraps. As Hamilton County Solid Waste Manager Michelle Balz noted, “This is the first of its kind in Hamilton County, and we hope to see many other communities follow suit.”

The compost program was funded through an through Hamilton County, which also paid for the construction of compost bins at Wyoming Middle School and High School.

“What we’re starting to really see is the interplay of waste reduction among residents, our small businesses, our City services, and students at our schools, all combining to make our City a regional leader on this front,” said Wyoming City Council member , who also re-launched the in 2017. She notes that another important partnership is the City’s Green Your School environmental mini-grant, funded by a portion of the rebate the City and our students earn each year through recycling.  In addition, the new 2019 Wyoming Green Business Award has also had an impact.  This intiative was created by the Wyoming Environmental Stewardship Commission to build recognition for Wyoming’s environmentally-minded small businesses.

Wyoming City Schools were the 2019 Outstanding School Waste Reduction Program winner. Since efforts in 2017 returned lunchtime recycling to the primary schools, waste reduction programs have only expanded, with environmental education, on-site compost programs, food-share tables, and zero waste lunch days. Elementary lunch waste has been cut by 68 percent on zero waste days, and as habits changed, on typical days, waste has been trimmed by 40 percent overall. One group of fourth graders at Hilltop Elementary was so inspired, all on their own they have started making every Wednesday zero waste lunch day.

PSA Green Team co-captains Elizabeth O’Keefe and Lauren Albarella note—thanks to support from principals, counselors, teachers and the superintendent—adding sorting stations at all schools has made sorting and reducing waste routine. “The discussions around how to use the sorting stations, reducing waste and reclaiming materials have sparked some student-driven ideas on other avenues to keeping valuable resources out of the landfill so that they can be reused,” says O’Keefe.

When recycling and compost are mis-sorted, they become trash, and so some of the best advocates for waste reduction have been custodial staff like Hilltop’s Grady Harris. “Some custodians have even taken on role of educator as kids go through the stations,” notes Albarella. “So they don’t just assist with the clean-up, but actually helping to guide kids through, making sure they understand what items go where every day.”

Accepting the award for the school district was , Middle School Green Team student president. “Bringing waste reduction into the Middle School hasn’t been easy,” says Benken. She lists challenges like the need for education, navigating the rush back to class and recess after lunch. “After showing [other students] how little time it took them to recycle, many kids took that and ran with it. They began to help others and take the opportunity to help the community. By teaching kids at an early age, my hope is that waste reduction becomes more of a habit, making us the next generation of adults having less of an impact on our planet,” she added.

That lesson is now part of the entire school district’s efforts. “Environmental issues are an important part of 21st century learning,” says Superintendent Tim Weber. “And it’s wonderful that our students, staff and community are leading the way on waste reduction.”

It all adds up, and less waste at the schools means less waste for Wyoming overall.

As for the City itself, sustainability is a priority in the Master Plan, and says City Manager Lynn Tetley, “We will continue to seek opportunities to find cutting edge ways to achieve this objective.”

The crowd of familiar Wyoming faces at the award ceremony demonstrated just how many committed volunteers, staff and students have helped lead these efforts—and reflect the thousands across Wyoming who have been reducing their personal waste at school, work and home.

NOTE: The city needs your help to make our waste reduction program successful! Please follow the rules for leaf pickup! Leaf collection is a major contributing factor to attaining the City’s impressive waste diversion rate, but doing it right is also important. Leaves raked into the street are a potential safety hazard, take longer for city crews to clean up, and those leaves wash into catch basins causing storm sewer backups and increased staff hours for the annual catch basin cleaning (plus increased costs to the city). Please rake your leaves close to the curb, but NOT into the road.