Some of ’s most eager recyclers are among its youngest residents—kids grades K-4. Over the past year, as the elementary schools’ program was reestablished with the help of the PSA Green Team, bottle by bottle, Wyoming elementary students added to the City’s total recycling yield. They made the city greener, and the City gave back to the kids by way of an innovative new environmental mini-grant program.

Last summer, when now-City Councilmember Sarah Stankorb Taylor was working with the Green Team on the program, she learned that the City receives a rebate from for the portion of its waste that is recycled.

“This wild notion popped into my head,” she says. She knew the City’s yield should increase given the expanded program at the elementary schools. But it would only count toward the rebate if the recycling dumpsters were community drop-off sites. “If the schools did agree to make them community sites, the City’s recycling yield and rebate should increase in turn, and then wouldn’t it be amazing to get a bit of that money into the kids’ hands for additional environmental efforts?”

Stankorb Taylor approached City Manager with the idea. Tetley was supportive.

“The City is thrilled to partner with local students on environmental education,” says Tetley.  “This project was a great way to meet our goals of supporting education about the environment, to increase our percentage, and an opportunity to use rebates to encourage more of the same type of actions.  It’s a win-win all around.”

Principal LaDora Hill at the elementary schools was amenable to making the dumpsters community sites, which meant the kids’ recycling would count toward the City’s rebate. To the tune of just $1,500 annually ($500 per school), and funded by the recycling rebate, the mini-grant program could encourage recycling at the schools, support environmental education as the kids problem-solved and designed solutions, and empower them to make a difference.

That’s a lot of work done by recycled homework and lunchtime bottles and milk cartons.

This spring, teachers were sent a kid-friendly grant application. In this, the program’s pilot year, only those teachers interested in jumping into the program presented it to their students, asking them what environmental problems they saw in and around their school. Kids brainstormed, then researched how to create a solution. They learned how to budget to implement their solution and how to write up a grant application.

The Environmental Stewardship Commission (ESC) was tasked with judging the applications—a tough decision when faced with such carefully researched and earnest plans to improve the environment and our schools.

The winners this year included installation of rain barrels at Hilltop; raising and releasing butterflies by each classroom at Elm; and erosion mitigation at Vermont. Since third graders from Vermont typically present to as part of their social studies curriculum, this year they presented one idea that had been a schoolwide effort. Vermont even came in a bit under-budget, thanks in part to Jess Hauer Masonry, which donated all the stone and granite blocks for benches.

Those who applied but didn’t earn the award this year are encouraged to try again next year, and ESC hopes to see an even bigger and more creative applicant pool.

“It’s remarkable to see the tangible changes these students have made,” says Stankorb Taylor. “Realizing you have the power to positively impact the world isn’t something a kid soon forgets. In this program, what could have been trash is being recycled into environmental inspiration.”