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  • Whitney Public School (Rick Hay)

A quarter of the families added new materials to their recycling following the assignment.

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A portion of the Metro Works flyer listing the kinds of materials that could be recycled.

Whitney Public School

Students at Whitney Public School were given a homework assignment to take responsibility for their home's Blue Box recycling for one week. The assignment was to be carried out by the students with parent participation. Information was provided to each home on new materials that were being accepted in the Blue Box.


In June of 1996, the administration at Whitney Public School in Toronto initiated a project to make Earth Week personally meaningful for the students and their families. There had recently been an increase in the range of items that residents could put in their Blue Boxes for recycling. The project was designed to increase awareness of recycling and the new recyclable materials introduced to the Blue Box program, and to promote greater recycling rates among the students at Whitney Public School and their families.

Delivering the Program

Every child at the school received special homework for one week during Earth Week - students were instructed to take responsibility for the recycling program in each of their homes for that week. They were each given a kit which included a letter from the school outlining the assignment and a flier from Metro Works listing recyclable materials and how they were to be sorted (Prompts).

Parents were instructed in the letter to monitor their child's recycling efforts, to help him/her count the number of items recycled during the week, and to indicate on the sheet provided if their child had satisfactorily completed the assignment. In order to actively participate in their child's assignment, parents needed to read the Metro Works flyer, thereby increasing the parents' awareness of which materials could be recycled.

Measuring Achievements

Following the one-week assignment, a questionnaire was sent home with the children to their parents, who were asked about their awareness of which materials could be recycled prior to Earth Week and whether there had been any change in awareness as a result of the project. A total of 390 questionnaires were sent home and 86 families responded. While it is not possible to generalize with confidence from such a low response rate, the results provide some indication of what can be achieved by such an approach.


  • one quarter of the families made changes in their recycling habits to include new recyclable materials as a result of the assignment
  • 20 percent of the families indicated that they increased the amount of material they recycled by 21 percent to 40 percent
  • 4 percent of the families increased the amount of material they recycled by more than 40 percent
  • half of the families stated that their awareness of which materials could be placed in the Blue Boxes increased
  • the other half were already recycling the newly accepted items - fine paper, boxboard, and aluminum containers

All of the respondents had used their Blue Boxes prior to the Earth Week homework assignment. These results indicate that there was already a high level of awareness and participation in Blue Box recycling among the parents who responded to this questionnaire. Even with 100 percent previous participation, the assignment did serve to increase awareness of recyclable products in over half the families and increased recycling of new materials among a quarter of the respondents.


Rick Hay
Whitney Public School
119 Rosedale Heights Drive
Toronto, Ontario
M4T 1C7
(416) 393-9380
Fax: (416) 393-9377


Sample letter that helped to involve the students parents.

Dear Parents,

Today, all Whitney students have been assigned Homework for the Planet. Your grade 1-6 children are to take control of your family's recycling program for one week. On Thursday evening evaluate whether they have met the criteria below. They should complete the accompanying graph Thursday night (based on the Blue Box contents at that time). If you have a sensitive scale for measuring metric mass, please use that method to measure the amount of recyclable materials. Otherwise your children should count the number of items of each type. Help them come up with a way of labelling the axis.

(child's name)

She/he took charge of the family's recycling program and ensured that all of the recyclable materials were put into the proper containers __ Yes
__ No
She/he saw that Blue Boxes were taken to the curbside on pickup day (if the container was full) __ Yes
__ No
By the end of the week, she/he knew which materials can be put in the Blue Box (without looking at the We Recycle bulletin) __ Yes
__ No

parent's signature


This case study was originally published in 1998 in "Tools of Change: Proven Methods for Promoting Environmental Citizneship" by Jay Kassirer and Doug McKenzie-Mohr (Published by Canada's National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy)

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