Getting the Scoop on Recycling

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Memo to Dan Rather: If you're looking for a replacement for Connie Chung, keep an eye on Katie Martin, a hungry young female reporter who got her big break uncovering a juicy scandal in her school's cafeteria.

Katie's story begins in her 5th-grade science class. What seemed like an innocuous assignment--write to a local business to ask about its waste-disposal practices--ripened into a news story that has captured the attention of the "Dateline NBC" show as well as North Carolina television stations.

Acting on tips from several unidentified sources, Katie decided to clean house in Southwest Elementary School's cafeteria and find out what really happened to students' polystyrene lunch trays.

What she discovered this spring shocked the 636 students of her High Point, N.C., school and surprised a lot of her teachers. Her 15-minute video, which captured the top prize at the school's science fair, tells the whole story.

Working with her own personal camerawoman--her mother--Katie begins her investigation in the cafeteria, interviewing students as they scrape lunch scraps into the trash and stack their trays for recycling. Clearly, no one suspects anything rotten.

But when Katie returns later that afternoon, her film crew captures some startling footage of a custodian tossing the cafeteria's trash bags--including the carefully recycled trays--into a gaping Dumpster.

Hot on the trail, Katie speeds off to the Guilford County landfill where she presses Frank Coggins, the dump's superintendent, about the trays' impact on the environment. As she suspected, his prognosis is discouraging.

Armed with this information, Katie heads back to her school to ask Principal Peggy Branch for an explanation. Unaware that something is amiss, Branch gets in touch with school officials, who inform her that the recycling company the district used folded a few months earlier. Polystyrene trays, it seems, were too light to be economical to recycle.

Reflecting on the significance of her scoop, Katie voices a lingering concern, "There are 600-some kids in the school, and we eat off these trays every day, and we have a hundred-some days a year."

But this tale has a happy ending.

Guilford County school officials are actively searching for a new polystyrene recycling partner. Meanwhile, Branch says, students will continue with their lunchtime routine to maintain their recycling habits.

--Megan Drennan

Vol. 14, Issue 38

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