9 York County classrooms to learn about turning trash into energy

York County residents can participate in a free tire disposal program in June. (Submitted/Photo)

The York County Solid Waste Authority wants to help kids learn about how their household trash can be converted into energy — so much so that the organization offered scholarships to nine schools for field trips.

This year's recipients of the authority's tour scholarship program include schools from four county districts: two from Dover Area, one from South Western, three from Southern York County and one from Hanover Public.

Approximately 560 kids will receive tours of the Resource Recovery Center — where trash is turned into fuel for electricity — and Education Center, in Manchester Township.

"We all make waste every singe day, and it all has to go somewhere," said authority spokeswoman Ellen O'Connor. She said teaching kids while they're young helps them make informed decisions in the future.

On the tour, students will learn how much waste an individual makes per day, how much waste the entire York community makes per day, the impact of waste if not managed properly and the benefits of waste reduction, recycling and reuse, O'Connor said.

The process is first come, first serve, she said, and any school that applies is accepted into the tour scholarship program. In previous years, the authority has accepted as many as 21 schools.

It started more than 20 years ago when a teacher approached O'Connor about learning more about the plant but didn't have the budget to bring students for a visit.

From there, the scholarship program was born.

In return for funds to offset bus and driver costs, students need only complete an activity or project on an aspect of solid waste management.

O'Connor said they typically do litter cleanup in their schools, plant a tree, initiate a recycling program or create an informational bulletin board for their classmates.

Kids love the tour, she said, and it creates a "ripple-out" effect when they share what they've learned.

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Kathleen Jacobs of Kathleen Jacobs & Puppets,  explains how York's combustion system turns trash into energy with the help of students Alanna Hopkins and Bryson Schmit at Loganville-Springfield Elementary School, Monday, November 5, 2018. 
John A. Pavoncello photo``

"The excitement is palpable," O'Connor said. "You get to see things you don't normally see."

She likened part of the process to a scene in "Toy Story 3" where a giant crane and claw lift the garbage. Kids will see things such as six tons of garbage moved in one grab, control room technology and systems to recapture roof and surface water runoff.

The biggest question she usually hears is why there are not more waste-to-energy plants. There are 78 in the U.S., compared to about 1,900 landfills, she said, while there are more than 500 plants in the European Union.

The plant is a go-to source of alternative power in the state, and for every ton of trash burned, one ton of greenhouse gases is avoided, so it's a "win-win for the environment," O'Connor said.

Teachers receiving 2019 scholarships are:

  • Dover Elementary: Diane Benner, Grade 1
  • Leib Elementary: Teresa Dull, Grade 4
  • Manheim Elementary: Lesa Uffelman, Grade 2
  • Susquehannock High School: Elizabeth Worley, Grade 11-12
  • Southern Elementary: Jen Collins, Grade 4
  • Shrewsbury Elementary: Cindy Procopio, Grade 4
  • Washington Elementary: Amy Gotwals, Grade 2