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EARTH DAY 2010 | Students help planet, and their schools

EAST MANATEE — Two words described the look on 11-year-old Megan Lynch’s face Wednesday.

Grossed out.

But her expression was for a good cause so the Witt Elementary student pressed on. Megan and her fifth-grade classmates at the Rye Road school have spent the past few months collecting more than 10,000 used drink pouches from the school cafeteria to recycle in honor of Earth Day, celebrated today across the nation.

Not only do they keep the pouches out of landfills, they earn two cents for every pouch they collect and return to TerraCycle, a global company that makes eco-friendly products from packaging waste.

The company accepts drink pouches, chip bags, candy wrappers, yogurt cups, lotion tubes and more.

“These programs are a great way for teachers to teach kids about the environment, and with school budgets shrinking, many are using the money they earn to put toward additional supplies, technology, playground equipment, gardens and plants and field trips,” said Lauren Taylor, TerraCycle spokeswoman.

After lunch a group of students collect the used drink pouches from the school’s cafeteria.

Their orders? Remove the straw, empty the remaining liquid inside, then package them into bundles of 50.

The hardest part of the job? Taking out the straw.

“They say, ‘Ew! I’m touching someone else’s spit,’ ” said fifth-grade teacher Laura Schuneman, who is overseeing the school’s collection. “But they take turns sharing the love, the responsibility of the mess.”

The most anticipated part of the job?

“The kids get so excited to go on the (TerraCycle) website and see how many they’ve collected so far,” Schuneman said.

Prior to Wednesday morning’s collection, Witt’s fifth-grade class had collected 10,051 pouches so far, netting the school $201.02.

James Pritchard, 11, shuddered Wednesday as he squeezed the remaining juice out of a grape Koolaid Jammer pouch.

“This feels disturbing,” he said as he made a sour face.

“We always get the heebie-jeebie dance,” Schuneman said as she watched James.

Megan said she didn’t mind the sticky, gooey job.

“It’s getting our money for our school and we’re saving the planet at the same time, so it’s a win-win,” she said.

The money will be used for technology at the school, Megan said.

Witt is one of 50,000 schools and community groups across the nation that have signed up to help collect used pieces of packaging. Other schools in Manatee that participated include Tara and Miller elementaries, Community Christian School and Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School.

TerraCycle uses waste material to make a wide range of products like seed starter kits made from yogurt cups and pencil cases made from drink pouches, which Taylor said will be sold at Wal-Mart for the first time in honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Taylor said the schools and community groups will earn close to $1 million this year.

Also in anticipation of Earth Day, students at Sugg Middle, Braden River High, Nolan Middle and Braden River Middle participated in the last day of a year-long recycling campaign initiated by Sugg seventh-grade students.

The group collected 65,970 plastic bottles, breaking the Guinness world record of 40,000 bottles, district officials said. The bottles will be sent to Resource Recovery Center Systems in Sarasota.

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