At Aquinas Academy, teamwork turns trash into treasure

By Phil Brown
Contributing Writer

GREENSBURG – Students at Aquinas Academy learned over the past year that caring for God’s creation can be a rewarding endeavor.

Students in kindergarten through sixth grade participated in a plastic bag recycling program that kept more than half a ton of plastic out of local landfills and waterways and added a beautiful bench to the school’s playground.

Academic coach Melissa Ruehl, who coordinated the recycling effort, said students enthusiastically embraced the school’s participation in the NexTrex Recycling Challenge.

The program encourages schools, civic organizations, churches and university organizations to recycle soft film plastics and packaging. When an organization recycles 1,000 pounds of plastic in a year, Trex Company, which turns recycled plastic into environmentally responsible outdoor products, rewards the effort with an eco-friendly bench.

Students began recycling in May 2023 and by Jan. 31 of this year, they topped the 1,000-pound goal. The Trex bench was delivered to the school in February.

Turning household trash into playground treasure required teamwork from students, family and friends of Aquinas Academy, Ruehl said.

Students collected and delivered plastic bags to Ruehl, who greeted each donation with praise to encourage participation and educate children on the value of taking care of the planet.

Donations were weighed, photographed and delivered to the Hempfield Square Giant Eagle’s recycling center.

Even though the school’s 219 students have already met the 1,000-pound goal to receive a bench, donations continue to roll in.

To date, students have collected 1,200 pounds of plastic, Ruehl said, noting that extra donations will be added to a new recycling challenge that is projected to start in August 2024.

Principal Kelly Watkins called the effort “amazing.”

“It’s hard to imagine how many bags needed to be collected to reach that weight, and we were able to do it in less than a year,” Watkins said. “We now have a wonderful place to sit on the playground, and students and teachers love it.”


Subscribe today!