Doris Chastain: Holt Elementary Recycling Queen
The sound of elementary-school-aged children playing basketball, hopscotch and hula hooping fills the air outside of Bertha Holt Elementary School in Eugene, Oregon. The hallways of the school are covered in various art projects including finger paintings and stick-figure drawings all leading to Doris Chastain’s classroom, a special education instructional assistant at Holt Elementary. Chastain has been deemed the Holt Elementary “recycling queen” due to her extraordinary efforts to bring the school its current recycling program and passion for helping those less fortunate.
Born in the state of Maine, Chastain moved to Oregon with her family when she was a child and then to the city of Eugene in 1986 after she got married. A previous employee of the federal government, Chastain started working for the school district in 2007 in order to be on the same schedule as her son, who was in school at the time.
Holt Elementary School is one of the only schools in the Eugene School District that participates in a program put on by Terra Cycle, a New Jersey based company that turns previously non-recyclable items such as chip bags, candy wrappers, juice pouches and yogurt containers into new products that range from park benches to backpacks to pencil cases, all thanks to Chastain.
“I’ve been recycling for almost 40 years, because I feel that it is something I can do to help save the environment,” say Chastain. “It just seemed like a wise thing for me to do.”
This program first caught Chastain’s eye in 2009 when she read a label on her son’s juice pouch box saying, “Earn money for your school.” After that, she started having the children in her son’s class collect juice pouches and she would then personally wash them and send them into Terra Cycle. Terra Cycle, which was started back 2001, has grown tremendously as a company and in 2012 it celebrated its 9th straight year of growing revenue. The company recently expanded and created a system where schools can send in recycled items that can then be redeemed for points that benefit different charities that provide clean drinking water in Africa, meals to homeless Americans, or school supplies to homeless students.
“Africans spend about 40 billion hours a year gathering water and that’s how the women and the children spend their days,” Chastain says. “So, to me that’s my top priority and it only takes 150 chip bags or 150 juice pouches to give one person clean drinking water for a whole year.”
In the 2009 to 2010 school year, the school collected 4,516 juice boxes and 4,041 Zip Lock bags and that number continues to increase as more and more items are being recycled. Since Chastain started the program at Holt Elementary, 31 people have been given clean water for a year and 31 meals have been given to starving Americans.
“This year, I have started a contest among the classes where I see who collects the most each month,” says Chastain. “From the winning class I chose one kid to receive a prize, which is one of the bags, pencil pouches, or folders Terra Cycle has made from the goods we send them.”
The program has not only been beneficial to charities but also to the students at Holt Elementary. One student in particular who has benefited from the program is a special education student of Terrie Durand’s, a special education teacher at Holt Elementary and Chastain’s supervisor.
“We have one little student who gets really excited about the program. He is a troublesome kid who is tag academically but struggles with behavior, and this kind of gives him a purpose,” Durand says. “And all of this is Doris’s time; she’s not getting paid extra for this. She is just extremely passionate.”
Chastain starts rustling through the box of goods made by Terra Cycle, pulling out different ones that are popular among students such as Capri Sun folders and Lay’s Potato Chip backpacks.
“First we keep waste out of the environment; we reuse it instead of throwing it away and next we get points to help people,” she says. “I just think it’s a really simple thing to do to make a huge impact on people’s lives and as you can tell, I am very passionate about it.”
By Aleecia Moss