Center Grove middle schooler starts plastic recycling program

When a local girl noticed how much plastic was wasted daily at her school, she took it upon herself to do something about it.

Addi Siner is a seventh grader at Center Grove Middle School Central. All seventh graders have to complete a project called the Genius Hour, which allows students to independently explore a passion and develop that interest into a project.

“One thing that always bothered me was that we didn’t recycle our water bottles. We were only recycling paper, and I didn’t understand that,” Siner said.

So, her Genius Hour project became finding a way to recycle plastic at school.

“When I thought about this, I looked around and I saw six kids with plastic water bottles in the room that were just going to get thrown away,” Siner said.

Siner spent the next few weeks researching best recycling practices, and she reached out to Republic Services — a waste collection company that Center Grove schools already used to recycle paper products — to find out how the school could recycle plastic too. She learned the company offers services for plastic products, as long as they are recycled properly.

She also called the Johnson County Recycling District for help. Jessie Biggerman, executive director of the recycling district, helped Siner apply for and secure a $500 grant to get five plastic recycling bins for the school.

“It gives us some faith that the things we are educating the public on are resonating and they’re recognizing the need for recycling,” Biggerman said.

With a solid plan in hand, Siner went to Craig Smith, principal at Center Grove Middle School Central, for approval. He hopped on board, impressed with the work she had done on her own, he said.

“Her passion behind this was evident right away. I don’t know if you can see the big smile under her mask, but that’s kind of permanent with Addi all the time,” Smith said. “She had discovered a problem … she recognized that we did not have the equal commitment to plastic.”

Smith added that the school’s plastic use has grown significantly in the last year since water fountains were blocked off to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

To go along with bins, Siner and her friend Emma Barton designed and printed posters with instructions to properly recycle plastic bottles.

Siner discovered in her research that bottles with liquid inside can contaminate an entire batch of recyclables. The signs she made detail that bottles must be fully-emptied and crushed to get the air inside out before getting thrown into the bins.

The plan is to place a bin in each of the three main locker bays in the school, and two in the cafeteria. The bins were delivered last week, and the goal is to set them up before the end of the school year, Smith said.