Changing the recycling habits of a school the size of Belmont is no easy task, but these days separating plastics, paper and tetra packs has become the new norm.
For her efforts in helping cement this seismic shift in school culture, Grade 11 student Kati Walters won this year’s Capital Regional District EcoStar award for youth leadership.
The annual EcoStar program highlights environmental initiatives, stewardship and leaders from across the region.
“It was hard to change the mindset of recycling nearly nothing (at Belmont) to recycling nearly everything,” Walters said. “To see how far this has come along in one year is amazing.”
Walters was part of the environmental group in Belmont’s leadership program, which played a key role in organizing and motivating students to use recycling bins spread through 100 classrooms.
Walters, 16 and who was born and raised in Langford, said it wasn’t easy getting 1,400 students to not only recycle, but to separate out plastics, foils and cans. Leadership students went from class to class, giving short lessons to fellow students on how and what to recycle.
“At first it was difficult to get the word out,” Walters said. “But once bins were in every classroom, recycling became expected. Students encouraged each other.”
Walters and her fellow leadership students and teachers now spend part of each Friday gathering and sorting refundable pop cans and tetra packs for Alpine Recycling, and plastics, foils and Styrofoam for Pacific Mobile Depots.
“At first it was a small group going every Friday from class to class,” Walters said. “Now other classes get involved. It’s a good way for students who normally don’t get involved to be involved.”
Walters admits that just a few years ago, recycling wasn’t something she paid much attention to. On a whim in Grade 10, she signed up to volunteer with Pacific Mobile Depots for its monthly Belmont depot.
It was there she learned that all manner of hard and soft plastics, Styrofoam and electronics could be recycled. It was a watershed moment.
“PMD completely opened my eyes to what can be recycled,” she said. “I learned about ‘beyond the blue box,’ and that’s where it all started.”
Walters went on to volunteer with the Off the Grid festival at City Centre Park and for Earth Day at WestShore Town Centre. She continues to volunteer with PMD at Belmont.
Those efforts were more than enough for Belmont leadership teachers Troy Harris and Kevin Harrington to nominate Walters for the EcoStar award.
“Kati really played an instrumental role in getting the recycling program up and running,” Harris said. “She recycles to make a difference in the world, not because of leadership class, but she sees value in it. Not a lot of kids see things that way.”
Harris said he expects Belmont’ recycling program to continue for the next school year, still organized and run by teachers and students volunteering their time. Money earned from refundable bottles and cans helps offset costs for recycling plastics and Styrofoam with PMD, but leadership students still need to fundraise to break even.
Harris said Walter’s award demonstrates such programs are worthwhile and worth emulating.
“We knew Kati would get the award. We expected her efforts to be recognized. It’s a huge award and it says a lot about our students,” Harris said. “We have an amazing bunch of kids. They are working to make an impact on the school, the community and the world, and Kati is one of the leaders.”