The proof is in the pudding, according to artist and volunteer Janice Reynen, who has been instrumental in improving the recycling program in five Wyckoff public schools.
As Wyckoff’s Green Team School Coordinator, she helped to secure five grants from the Bergen County Utilities Authority totaling more than $3,400. Reynen was able to tell a lot about how trash was being processed by investigating it in Wyckoff’s four elementary schools and middle school.
“I don’t believe anyone until I go through garbage,” laughed Reynen. “I like to say the truth is at the bottom of the can.”
The grants, which were announced in June and began in September, allowed Reynen to meet the needs of each school.
“Each elementary school had awesome people in charge of their environmental clubs,” said Reynen. “They were all doing the same exact things. They just needed to be organized.”
She encountered teachers who were studious stewards of the environment. She met “Green Goddesses,” or mothers who brought students’ yogurt cups home and rinsed them out for recycling. This made Reynen realize that perhaps the town and the school had different recycling programs. She went straight to Gaeta to find out.
“At home we have a two-bin system, called single-stream or co-mingled recycling,” said Reynen where trash goes in one container and all recyclables in the other. Schools sometimes had three bins, one for paper goods, another for metal and glass and a third for plastics but only specific types. However, Gaeta said other types of plastic were not allowed.
“That was really confusing,” said Reynen. “I felt we needed to get in the schools and work with the kids… My goal is to teach the children because the children are going to teach their family members.”
Working with the three-container system, Reynen used grant monies to purchase and design stickers for recycling containers to indicate which recyclables could be thrown in via pictures and shapes. These stickers are being rolled out from January to April.
“Kids want to do the right thing, but it has to be clearly marked,” Reynen said.
She also strategically placed bottle recycling containers near a gym in one school, and out in the hallways in another since single bins for each classroom would have been too expensive.
The Wyckoff Board of Education plans to explore putting stream recycling in schools next year when the contract for recycling resurfaces.
Other grant monies have been used for assemblies and presentation boards explaining the color-coded recycling system in classrooms and lunchrooms. Getting Styrofoam out of cafeterias was also a challenge. All schools agreed, except for Eisenhower Middle School.
“Styrofoam is so bad,” said Reynen. “It takes 500 years to [decompose] and then it just leaves a residue of chemicals that leach into the earth.”
The grants are also being used to send weekly “Green Scenes” in the Friday E-blasts instead of paper notices and creating classroom recycling pledges. One school also purchased bookmarks with seeds. The middle school got composting bins for the cooking classroom.
Reynen and the Green Team are currently planning a recycling presentation at the Larkin House. She also designed the Green Team’s logo, T-shirts and a banner when she joined in October 2011. The goal of the Green Team is to follow the guidelines of Sustainable Jersey. Recycling education is one aspect.
Reynen owns Uncas Designs, a graphic design studio that has created many outdoor signs for local businesses, as well as programs, logos, business cards, menus and banners. Reyen is also a watercolor artist.
Reynen did not study art, but rather trained to be a high school biology teacher. After a few years of searching for teaching jobs, she decided she looked as old as the students and decided to go into sales.
But her passion for art — especially that which is made using recycled materials — is still relevant today.
“There’s a use for everything,” said Reynen, who has used six-pack holders and old bathing suits in banners. “It’s inspiring to me that everything has multiple uses. You just have to see it that way.”
Reynen continues to pursue freelance graphics work and is currently eyeing a number of potential jobs — including a possible return to education.
“Maybe then I’ll decide to re-up my teaching certificate,” said Reynen. “But right now I’m going on referrals from business to business.”
The recycling program in the high school is next on Reyden’s radar. And while she could use more permanent paid work, she’s happy helping out the schools.
“I have met so many great people doing this pilgrimage mission,” she said.
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