One of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of our programs is watching schools enact real change in their communities. A leader in sustainability, Camden City School District (CCSD) is making huge shifts to create a greener, cleaner, more environmentally friendly community for students and families. However, this did not come without countless hours of work and the collaboration of school administrators, the Go Green Initiative, and community sponsors which helped Brimm High School achieve a bronze certification from Sustainable Jersey for Schools (SJS). Achieving a bronze level certification is a huge accomplishment for any school but especially notable for a school in Camden considering their circumstances a year ago. Of the top ten most populous cities in New Jersey, only one besides Camden has achieved such certification.

District Under Pressure

When GGI first started working in Camden they were in a tough spot. Out of compliance with the state recycling ordinance, Camden faced hefty fines of $3,000 per day, per school if they continued to operate out of state guidelines. In addition to fines, CCSD also faced issues of funding. Enrollment had declined 36% as students moved to charter schools and so did district funding.

In conjunction with the school board, the Go Green Initiative developed a strategic, community encompassing, strategy to get the district back into compliance before inspections. Since Camden hauls their own trash, they are responsible for delivering their material to the ReCommunity site. Therefore, before implementing a recycling program, the school needed to take a few necessary steps:

  • A thorough understanding of what waste could and could not be recycled by their local plant
  • Meet with district custodians who then suggested meeting with teachers and staff who were at the frontline of these efforts
  • Work with ReCommunity to develop very specific training for teachers, custodians, principals and the central office regarding what materials could be recycled and how they needed to arrive at the facility to be recycled e.g. clean, dry, etc.

A Community Approach

Corporate community partners played a huge role in ensuring the ongoing success of the school district’s environmental program. In Camden, corporate sponsors and community experts came together to provide additional incentives for CCSD to comply with recycling programs such as teacher mini-grants. Covanta, who operates an energy-from-waste facility in Camden, initially reached out to the Go Green initiative to provide assistance to the Camden City School District. Covanta was recognized in 2017 for their participation in CCSD and received an award from the mayor’s office.

Other corporate sponsors include: CCMUA, Carton Council, and Campbells. These sponsors combined provided monetary donations to be used as rewards and incentives for the recycling programs in the school district.

Ongoing Efforts

CCSD was able to pass county inspections and avoid all fines. Camden’s success was recognized as the county inspector, Covanta, and CCSD gave a joint presentation at the 2017 New Jersey Solid Waste Association of North America conference (SWANA).  Green School National Network also featured CCSD, highlighting their programs and perseverance to enact change. However, inspections are ongoing, so CCSD will remain persistent in their efforts and strive to achieve even more next year. We look forward to seeing what Camden accomplishes this upcoming year as they forge the way for urban schools in sustainability.

About Author

Emily Kromalic (Development & Strategic Communication) is in charge of Communication and Development for the Go Green Initiative. She works to spread the word about the importance of sustainability education, climate change, and environmental conservation. Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, Emily is a transplant to the Bay Area and resides in San Francisco. She holds a B.A. in English and Legal Foundations from The Ohio State University.