TERRE HAUTE —
Recycling blue jeans into purses. Making a bee catcher out of a two-liter bottle. Creating a pop can windmill. And making a guitar out of cereal boxes and rubber bands.
Those are the type of recycling projects that fourth-grade students at Meridian Elementary in Brazil recently completed as part of a study unit on recycling, reusing and reducing their potential contributions to landfills.
On Wednesday, the students saw recycling in action on a much larger scale when they visited the Goodwill Industries Donation and Recycling Center on South Third Street in Terre Haute.
While the general public usually sees only the second-hand clothing, housewares and other items for sale at bargain prices, the students took a tour of the donation and recycling side of Goodwill to see how donations are accepted and sorted, and how employees learn job skills while processing tons of repurposed items and refuse for recycling.
“We teach the students so that when we say that we recycle, we want them to see the process, and to show them where to drop off stuff to be recycled, and to shop for recycled items,” teacher Leah Schuch said after the students watched a video about the Goodwill process.
Schuch and fellow teacher Jessica Kendall said they both rely on recycling to get supplies for classroom projects. For instance, during a recent study unit on pioneers, the students made vests out of plastic bags and used tissue boxes and shoe boxes to construct a pioneer village. “They all got the idea of being able to repurpose something,” Schuch said.
Marlene Cox, business development director for Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries, gladly led the students through one of three Terre Haute stores, explaining the intake process for donations, and introducing the students to some of the people tasked with sorting the multitude of items that come through the donation and recycling center.
The Wabash Valley Goodwill has eight stores — three in Terre Haute and others in Sullivan, Brazil, Greencastle, Paris, Ill., and Robinson, Ill.
The first Terre Haute store opened in 1927, 25 years after the first Goodwill nationally opened.
“All the things we sell here is how the people who work here get a paycheck,” Cox told the 36 students.
In one area of the building, online orders were being packaged to ship to at-home shoppers.
“We have a lot of online shoppers,” Cox said.
Clothing that is deemed unsellable — because of stains, rips or heavy use — are sorted into an area where the cloth will be cut into “wipers” to sell to industries to use for cleanup. Cox said there is a big demand for the wipers.
Departments in the donation and recycling center employ about 50 people who sort electronics, housewares, books, textiles and furnitures. Another area of the building handles document shredding. Cox showed the students that several area businesses contract to have their documents shredded at Goodwill, and that paper refuse is then repurposed in other ways, such as filler for bags and boxes.
In the recycling area, it takes about 30 barrels of soda cans to make one bale of aluminum that can be sold. The crushers also compact plastic containers such as milk jugs, detergent bottles and other items to be sent for recycling.
Probably the most exciting part of the excursion for the students was the actual shopping in the Goodwill store. The students spread out through the racks of clothing and housewares, some in search of shoes, jewelry and toys.
The store has more than 31,000 pieces of clothing, Cox said, and everything rotates out on a six-week schedule. She explained that each item has a color-coded tag, and each week a different color is pulled out to be rotated to another store.
Frequent shoppers at Goodwill can get a discount card that gives a special price on the color of the week, Cox said.
“We do a lot for our community,” she said of the low-cost merchandise, as well as the job training. “With our economy, there is need.”
The store also has medical equipment that can be loaned out at no cost. And, if someone has a lot of items to donate, the store can sent a truck to Terre Haute locations to do home pickup.
Goodwill sees a variety of customers from all walks of life, Cox said.
For instance, last winter several college students came in to look for ugly sweaters to wear to parties and contests themed for ugly sweaters. Halloween is also a busy time, because the store receives a lot of kids costumes, and adults like to find clothing they can wear one time as a costume. A good example would be a couple wanting to dress up as 1970s pop icons Sonny and Cher.
Cox told the students that recycling will be an important part of society’s future because landfill space is limited.
Schuch is a long-time recycler. She has taught her students about recycling for the past nine years, she said, and in her personal life she repurposes T-shirts, plastic bags and other items into useful things that others can use.
She went with a church group to Honduras last year, and saw how a sports coat was cut up and sewn into arm covers for a worn couch. The local people there made money by creating necklaces and bracelets out of coffee beans, and they sold other crafts often created from cast-off items.
After their tour of Goodwill, the students were headed for Fairbanks Park to see some local landmarks, and to Deming Park to check out the playground surface, which was made of recycled tires.
Schuch said it is her goal to work out a recycling agreement with a Clay County business so that students can see not only the environmental side of recycling, but also the financial benefits.