Rick Wilson

Rick Wilson

CASA GRANDE — A school-based recycling program is growing so fast, organizers have created a new Facebook page to unite volunteers and give regular updates.

“Our recycling numbers are off the charts compared to last year,” said Rick Wilson, a teacher at Mesquite Elementary School who started the recycling program several years ago to teach students about trash, teach them to recycle and to raise money for area food banks.

For the first few years, only students, teachers, staff and a few neighbors brought in plastic water bottles, tin cans and paper to be recycled through the program. The materials collected are sold to area recycling companies and the money raised has been donated to the Casa Grande Food Bank.

Over the years the program has grown steadily and this past year, the program collected a record amount.

“We can’t empty our paper bins fast enough before they are filled again, usually in three days,” Wilson said. “I have nine large recycling bins at Mesquite now and they usually fill in four to five days.”

During the 2019-20 school year, the group collected and recycled 6,313 pounds of plastic. By January of this school year, the group had already collected 4,712 pounds of plastic and is on track to surpass last year’s total.

Numbers for aluminum, metal and paper are also up. This year so far, the group has collected 1,134 pounds of aluminum, 789 pounds of other metal and 26,780 pounds of paper.

In all of the 2019-20 school year, the project collected 1,192 pounds of aluminum, 978 pounds of metal and 33,500 pounds of paper.

“We will probably pass these numbers in a month. And there are still four months left in this year to recycle,” Wilson said. “We are averaging 47 pounds a day of recycling.”

Last year, the group donated $2,200 to the Casa Grande Food Bank after selling its materials. This year, $2,208 has already been raised.

The group collects No. 1 plastic, aluminum cans, tin cans, newspaper, cardboard, junk mail, magazines and miscellaneous paper.

Wilson does much of the sorting himself, but a few volunteers have joined the effort.

“One day a week I have Cathleen and Phil Rafferty, Lindsey Wittenburg, Amy and Andrea Ramirez who help me,” Wilson said. “Usually three out of the five days there are people there to help.”

Volunteers meet on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings.

“It takes the group under an hour and a half,” Wilson said. “But if I’m working alone it takes me four-plus hours. It depends on how quickly the bins fill as to when we meet. I often go to Mesquite on Tuesday or Wednesday and empty bins to get us to Saturday, where all of us do it together.”

The Facebook page “Casa Grande Recycles” was designed to rally volunteers and to educate people about recycling.

“We took a video of us bringing a bin in, dumping and sorting it,” Wilson said. “Then we bagged it up for pickup. It also shows what we can’t use. We are trying to make posts that tell the public what we can and can’t recycle. We still get quite a bit of No. 2, No. 5 and No. 7 plastics. We also get plastic bags, straws, plastic utensils, dog poop and various plastic dishes, among others things we can’t use.”

Wilson puts out regular reminders on social media that the school recycling program accepts recyclable materials from anyone.

“I do think more people are recycling,” he said. “When we remind people on social media that we have this recycling program, our bins fill up faster. Hopefully, we’ll get even more.”

Volunteers are still needed. Those wishing to help may send an email to mrwilsonrecycling@gmail.com or call 836-7787. On Facebook, the group is found under Casa Grande Recycles.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.