Kilby Shores’s Angela Salerno teaches students value of recycling

Published 5:35 pm Tuesday, April 18, 2023

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A Kilby Shores Elementary School teacher and her students are marking Earth Day Saturday by celebrating an achievement they hope inspires others to recycle and keep the Earth clean. 

KSES Art Teacher Angela Salerno and her students are celebrating the fact that they have collected more than 10,000 pounds of plastic bags over the course of a decade and a half. 

Salerno explained why and how she started the program.

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“The plastic bag recycling program at Kilby Shores Elementary has been going on for the past 15 years,” she said. “It all started when I was disgusted with plastic bags all over the place when I was driving around.”

Salerno said seeing this made her wish there was something she could do.

“Then, a company called TREX, located in Winchester, Virginia, reached out to schools to see if any were interested in collecting bags to possibly earn a bench,” she said. “I of course let the company know I was very interested.”

Salerno said TREX makes high-performance composite deck boards and also uses plastic bags to create “plastic wood that lasts longer than real wood products.” 

The benefits of this product led her to reflect on her work with the Girl Scouts.

“The thought of having all that plastic go on to a new life as a bench or deck was very appealing to me because in addition to being the school’s art teacher, I am also a Girl Scout leader,” Salerno said. “I’ve been involved with Girl Scouts for over 25 years and it has been ingrained in me to ‘use resources wisely and make the world a better place.’”

Salerno described the process of the plastic bag campaign from its beginning. She said she had to count bags individually, until the fifth year when they were allowed to weigh the bags.

“I love to travel, so I now use my travel scale to weigh the bags, then take them to our participating local grocery store where TREX will pick up the bags and take them to their plant,” she said. “I usually take between 20-40 pounds weekly or bi-weekly to our local store.”

All the work yielded positive results, as 15 years of past totals were soon reaching 10,005 pounds. 

As coordinator for the project, Salerno made it the school goal to reach the monumental number, and thanks to the students it was achieved.

“So I made it our school goal to reach the goal of 10,000 pounds collected over the past 15 years, and we did it!” she said. “The students were faithful in recycling their plastic ziplock bags that their breakfast items were contained in daily, plus we have community helpers that add to our totals because they just know we collect the plastic bags.” 

This year, she said they collected 1,155 pounds of plastic which made the total exceed the 10,000 pounds mark.

“That is the equivalent of 5 tons of plastic, which went on to a new life as a deck or bench,” Salerno said. “I am extremely proud of our students and all the other teachers, staff and family members who have helped us reach this incredible milestone.”

Salerno said she hopes the project has an effect on the city.

“I am hoping that Suffolk continues to recycle because every bit counts. Looking back, I never would have thought we would have been able to fill seven semi-trucks with plastic. It makes it all worthwhile to know that even the little things will add up to even bigger things,” Salerno said.


Editor’s note: Updated second and 10th passage as well as sixth quote at 1:50 p.m., Wednesday, April 19 to reflect accurate numbers and grammatical changes.


Editor’s note: Updated second passage at 2:24 p.m., Wednesday, April 19 to reflect correct title.