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Sustainable Congdon Park

Environmental Concern

The mission of Congdon Park's Environmental Concerns group is to cultivate ecologically, socially and sustainable-minded citizens. PTA Committee Activities Include:

  • Support the Student Green Team with Recycling
  • Food Waste Collection Program - composting
  • Congdon School Community Garden
  • Harvest Festival
  • National Walk to School Day
  • Tomato Man Project

What do we recycle at Congdon Park?

  • White and glossy paper
  • Cardboard
  • Tin cans, aluminum cans and glass bottles
  • Milk Cartons
  • Holiday lights via Airpark Products and Services
  • Plastic bags 
  • Ink cartridges


In 2012, Congdon implemented school-wide cafeteria composting. Some of the savings include:

  • Purchase of Real Silverware saves $400/ year
  • Waste Cost Reduction: $700/ year by reducing from 2 to 1 dumpster
  • Additional 17% tax reduction of total waste bill

We have been able to fund our environmental efforts and support Outdoor Learning (School/Community Garden) through 2 sources - The NewPage White/Glossy Paper Collection and the Annual Plant Sale. NewPage is a leading producer of printing and specialty papers in North America using the recycled white and glossy paper that we collect here in Duluth. Last year Congdon filled the NewPage dumpster 9 times with white and glossy paper, turning TRASH into CASH & raising $1,100 dollars. Over $2,300 was generated at the Congdon Plant Sale. Thanks for making this happen!!

A brief history of Congdon Park's efforts to be more environmentally friendly


In 2010, the Congdon PTA Environmental Concerns Committee & Western Lake Superior Sanitation District formalized Congdon’s recycling efforts and saw a 150% increase in recycling. The school was awarded a New Page Dumpster in 2011. Each Wednesday, the Student Green Team collects and weighs the paper for educational tracking. Prior to the implementation of the on-site New Page Dumpster, the school averaged 6,800 pounds of paper during fundraisers. In 2012, the school collected 27,100 pounds in its New Page Dumpster - a 400% increase!  Overall, the school recycled 40,075 pounds of paper in 2012.

How was it established?

In 2010, with the assistance of the Western Lake Superior Sanitation District, the PTA Environmental Concerns Committee formalized its recycling efforts.  WLSSD donated larger classroom recycling bins. Recycling bins were also placed at 3 hallway stations, in the library, staff work rooms, by every printer, offices, in the after school program, faculty lounge and cafeteria. In the first year of the initiative, the school saw a 150% increase in recycling. Students adopted a leadership role as members of the Green Team.

Three years ago, as a cost-saving and green measure, the school transitioned to an online Weekly Newsletter.  Prior to that time, approximately 73,500 pieces of paper were distributed annually to the 450 families. Today, only 30 hardcopies are sent to families, resulting in only 3,360 annual copies, a 96% paper reduction!! 

In 2011, Congdon applied for a New Page Paper Mill Collection Dumpster. Community members are able to drop-off materials as well. The school advertises the opportunity within its online Weekly News, its web page, leaflets, signage and the Congdon Neighbors Magazine. The school earns 10 cents per pound of paper collected, which is utilized for various Green-Related Educational Activities.

Who Administers?

A Student Green Team was formed in 2011, comprised of ten 4th and 5th grade ambassadors. The Principal and Environmental Concerns Co-Chairs advise the students. The team helps educate and publicize new recycling initiatives. Each Wednesday, the Student Green Team collects recycling and weighs the paper collected for educational tracking. The Green Team assists with the cafeteria food waste collections. It is in the process of creating and administering a survey exploring garden needs and interests as part of a Community Transformation Grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Program for obesity & obesity-related disease prevention.

The Environmental Concerns Committee consists of 20 PTA members. The Committee has been active with efforts beyond paper recycling including: crayon & holiday light collections; the purchase of real silverware, milk carton recycling and composting to reduce cafeteria waste; grant writing; the development of a school eco-plan; and school garden planning and implementation. In addition to the Principal, the committee works closely with the school engineers, cafeteria manager, office personnel, teachers and students.

Teachers are excited about the cross-curricular learning opportunities. Likewise, the recycling efforts provide an opportunity to cultivate ecologically, socially and sustainable-minded citizens.

How do we educate our Congdon Park population?

When the school formalized its recycling efforts in 2010, WLSSD assisted with a kick-off Pep Assembly. Students learned about the importance of recycling and then participated in a sorting relay. Using a train-the-trainer model, WLSSD trained PTA Environmental Concerns Committee Members, who then conducted classroom-recycling education and hands-on activities aligned with state standards by grade-level. In subsequent years, the incoming kindergarten classes have received training.  Refresher education will be re-visited on a three-year cycle.

When the school implemented recycling in the cafeteria, teacher and students attended a training to learn the importance of recycling and discussed ways to reduce waste like recycling milk carton, reducing paper by using re-usable containers and composting. The students then practiced the process.

The Environmental Concerns committee has a close working relationship with the School Engineers. The engineers attend recycling education provided by the Environmental Concerns Committee and are always involved in decisions. Likewise, the teachers receive training at staff meetings and information is relayed through the Principal Newsletter and e-mail messages. Staff buy-in and continued support is a primary focus.


Partnerships have been formed with WLSSD, NewPage Paper Mill, Community Members as well as Hartel’s Collections. WLSSD provides continued support and expertise as new recycling efforts are initiated. NewPage Paper Mill generously arranged the partnership with Hartel’s Waste Collections, whereby white and glossy paper can easily be collected from the school and community at a reduced rate. The collection bin and transportation provides a much easier collection process and fundraising opportunity; the paper can then be re-used and converted to new paper by New Page.

In addition, technology is being utilized to reduce paper consumption. Three years ago, the school transitioned to an online Weekly Newsletter. This change is helping community organizations save on paper as well; community activities, sports, and announcements are submitted electronically and it provides a centralized community resource page on the school website.

In 2013, Congdon Elementary is starting a partnership with Minnesota Waste Wise, Environmental Troubleshooters and Airport Services. Community and school members will have an opportunity to bring plastic bags and plastic packaging. The plastic is recycled and made into new products as well as providing job opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The EPA has also approached the school regarding partnership opportunities.

How is the success of the program measured?

The school recycles approximately 242 lbs. of mixed paper per month and averages 1200 pounds per month for its cardboard pick-up. Prior to the implementation of the on-site New Page Dumpster, the school averaged 6,800 pounds of paper during an annual fundraiser. In 2012, the school collected 27,100 pounds in its New Page Dumpster - a 400% increase. The fundraising component, earned the school $2,700 which has been used to sustain green efforts.  Overall, the school estimates 40,075 pounds of paper recycled in 2012.

The school experienced a 96% paper reduction with the implementation of its online newsletter. Electronic and phone communication along with a more user-friendly school web site have afforded paper and cost savings.

The combined recycling efforts have resulted in a once a week trash pick up down from twice a week. Given that garbage is accessed an additional 17% tax, substantial savings have been achieved. The school anticipates being able to reduce the size of its garbage dumpster in the next month with the implementation of school-wide composting efforts. The school is also recycling milk cartons and replacing cardboard serving containers with re-usable containers for school lunches, further reducing paper, costs and trash.

What makes paper recycling unique?

Many of Congdon Park Elementary recycling efforts have been school-initiated and now serve as a model for the district. The Environmental Concerns Committee is in the process of developing a School Eco-Plan with input from administration and staff. The plan will serve as a guide for daily practices so that recycling and conservation efforts are not a separate piece on the sidelines. Policies are being developed in ten areas: Buildings and Energy, Outdoor Space, Purchasing, Food Service, Water, Transportation, Maintenance and Curriculum. This will help drive future decisions and practices cultivate the respect, wisdom, values and aptitude needed to be ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable students, employees, and citizens.

The school’s paper recycling efforts spearheaded the movement towards a broader vision and sustainable Eco-Plan. Paper recycling has also created several viable partnerships amongst the school’s students, teachers, staff, administration, PTA and numerous community organizations. It is these types of partnerships, education and changes in practice that create long-term success.