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Battery Brigade!

Written on February 27th, 2017

Community involvement has always been a goal at Muskoka Christian School (MCS), and this year that commitment was taken to a new level. The students in this small school have entered the Ontario Schools Battery Recycling Challenge (OSBRC), an Ontario-wide competition that challenges schools to recycle the most batteries per student. The result has been the creation of a Muskoka-wide battery recycling program, facilitated by the students, based at the school’s Utterson location.

Earlier in the year, students in the grade 5/6 Social Studies class were given the opportunity to brainstorm different ideas about raising awareness for various environmental issues and how they could make an impact on their community. A quick survey of the students revealed that very few families properly recycled their batteries. Sarah Ebbers, a relatively new student at MCS, presented the suggestion that they enter the competition—one that she had been involved in previously at another school—and her classmates quickly agreed.

“Everyone pollutes the environment in some way—by driving cars and creating garbage,” Sarah stated. “It’s important that we find a way to help, and we decided to start by recycling batteries.”

The OSBRC contest, hosted each year by a company called Raw Materials Company Inc. (RMC), was established with the vision that all consumer batteries need to be recycled responsibly, and not discarded into municipal landfills. The challenge targets elementary and secondary schools and aims to teach students and their families about the proper ways to handle, store, and recycle batteries at home and at school.

“Participation in the contest was made simple and easy,” shared Andrea Clarke, a volunteer librarian at MCS. “Everything that you need is provided—educational material, posters, collection barrels and pails, and pickup of the barrels once they are full.” To promote a spirit of competition amongst the 125 participating schools, the company displays the trackable progress of each school.

Students, parents, grandparents, and extended families have joined the grade 5/6 students in their battery brigade in hopes of collecting the most batteries per student. “My mom collected used batteries from people at her work,” shared grade 4 student Rebecca, “and we also got them from other families’ houses too.”

“Muskoka Christian School is a small school with very enthusiastic families,” shared Ms. Clarke. “We have great school spirit, so it wasn’t hard to get the students and their families involved.”

The grade 5/6 class has been encouraged to promote battery recycling through website-based activities, draws, and prizes. They spent time teaching fellow students about the need to recycle batteries and how to do so properly. “I learned old batteries can be made into new things,” shared Julia, a grade 3 student at MCS. “There are special things in batteries that can be made into new batteries,” added Rebecca, “and that means we don’t always have to mine for more.”

Students also visited local businesses to spread the word about the program, asking them to consider becoming a collection site. As a result of their efforts, businesses such as Muskoka Lumber  and the One Stop General Store in Huntsville have agreed to host collection bins for their customers to dispose of their used battery collections.

“We put a bucket on our front counter and customers have been more than willing to help out and to get rid of their batteries,” shared Muskoka Lumber manager Tony Vanderstelt. “We have half a box to pick up already! Business owners from this community are always more than happy to help out when students are participating in learning projects here—from offering free equipment rental to helping clear the skating rink to offering volunteer services when the plumbing acts up,” he continued. “They’re always making themselves available. That’s what being a community is about.”

Prize money for the contest is awarded based on the total number of alkaline batteries collected during the contest period, which began on October 17, 2016, and will run until April 21, 2017. For every kilogram of single-use alkaline batteries recycled, RMC pays money into a provincial prize pool that will be awarded to the top three schools. To level the playing field, scores for each school are based on the average weight of batteries collected per student and staff enrolled.

MCS principal Lauralynn Mercer is excited about the community’s response and the students’ eagerness to avert batteries from area landfill sites. “We desire that our students have a lasting effect on their community as they learn to be good, caring citizens,” shared Ms. Mercer. “We hope that our students will learn about being good stewards of God’s creation in the big and the small things.”

Muskoka Christian School is one of the smallest schools participating in this year’s challenge, but they are currently sitting in second place. With a student body of 59 students, they have already collected more than three barrels full of household batteries that may have otherwise been sent to the landfill. The school’s progress is posted on the leaderboard at the front of the school so that students can see how many batteries they have collected. As well, students are updated during their monthly assembly, and the school has named their own “Battery Brigadier”—Sarah—to help spread the word. Families and community members are kept in the loop through the school’s Facebook page.

Although the prize money is a huge motivator for students at MCS to promote their battery collection, they are also thankful that their efforts are helping to save the environment in a tangible way. “The students started the dead battery collection to help the community in recycling their batteries more conveniently,” continued Ms. Clarke, “and to help divert damaging materials from seeping into the soil. We were so excited to find out that there was a company that would partner with us in our efforts and that a prize was even a possibility. Of course, the students are even more motivated by the prize money, which would be so helpful for our small school.”

The staff and students at MCS have enjoyed a sense of community as they have rallied together to collect recyclable batteries. “We have collected various items over the years to help support missions, the school, and the environment,” shared Ms. Mercer. “Everyone in our community has been eager to join in and help collect used batteries for our initiative—both families and businesses.  Projects like this allow us to be brought together to work toward a common goal—to manage God’s earth and to make our community a better place.”