MDEQ Honors Custodian for Leading Two Generations of Recyclers

Retired custodian Bob Bowman and his go-to recycling team: from left, Morgan Vanos, Lauren Rice, Maya Anderson and Melanie Hintz

What started as one custodian noticing too much paper going into the trash became a celebrated and student-supported recycling project at Parkside Elementary School.

Retired custodian Bob Bowman was honored by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for leading the school’s waste-paper recycling efforts over the past 40 years. He began recycling classroom paper at Parkside in 1975 and has continued doing so since retiring in 2010.

In an honors assembly on the last day of school, Parkside Principal Larry Waters read a DEQ proclamation naming Bowman a “recycling champion” and role model for students. Bowman earlier this spring received an Inspiring Individual Award at Gov. Snyder’s Recycling Summit in Plymouth.

Bowman in turn honored the students who put in the most hours helping him to recycle classroom papers over lunch hour this year. Fourth-graders Morgan Vanos and Lauren Rice and fifth-graders Maya Anderson and Melanie Hintz worked over 100 days, with Maya and Melanie logging more than 200 since starting as third-graders. Eleven more students spent over 15 days helping him, among 58 who participated in all.

He began his effort in 1975 after seeing “so much stuff being wasted that could have been recycled,” Bowman said. “I thought, ‘Why is it just being tossed in the landfill?’”

He and his student elves recycle four 55-gallon barrels of paper per week, taking it from empty classrooms over lunch. Bowman then plays games with his helpers while they eat.

He agreed to continue the project post-retirement after students requested it. “They were so good and fun to work with, I just couldn’t give it up,” he said.

He maintains a Hall of Fame showing photos of his top helpers each year. About a dozen children of former recyclers are now pitching in.

Melanie Hintz said her reason for recycling is simple: “So the Earth doesn’t die.”

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Michigan’s Recycling Plan of Action

Parkside Elementary School

Bob Bowman honored all students who put in more than 15 days helping him recycle waste paper from Parkside classrooms
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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