EGG HARBOR CITY — Students in Veronica Warrakah’s kindergarten and first-grade special education class have an important job to do every day at lunch in the Charles L. Spragg Elementary School.

They process more than 200 milk containers a day for recycling.

The Atlantic County Utilities Authority began accepting cardboard milk containers for recycling in January. In homes, it’s easy. Once the milk is finished, the container is thrown in with all the other recyclables.

But in school, it’s a bit more complicated.

“One of our concerns is kids don’t finish their milk,” said Adrienne Shulby, principal at the Spragg School, which has about 250 students. “So one of our special ed classes made it their project to empty all the milk cartons into a bucket, and recycle the containers.”

“They love the responsibility,” Shulby said. “They do it for their lunch, and for (the next one).”

During a recent lunch, Dai’Shon Worthy, 6, watched over a cart where the children were supposed to leave their containers. He kept a close eye on the trash can, to be sure none ended up there.

When the other children had left, he and a group of about five other students rolled the cart to a corner, where a big bucket awaited. Then they dumped the leftover milk and juice into it, and put the now-empty containers in a recycling can.

“Can I get my tokens now?” said Ibn Davis, 6, after they were finished. He said he loved his job.

“It’s a paid program ... based on a behavior modification system,” said longterm substitute Jeannette DePiero, of Green Bank, Washington Township. She is a retired special education teacher filling in for Warrakah, who designed the program and whose daughter just had a baby.

Students in the self-contained class have learning or emotional challenges, and the rewards they get for their lunchroom job help motivate them to work hard and behave well. Children have to have a good day to participate, DePiero said.

“As soon as they are done working, they get a token they can trade in on the rewards cart,” she said. They also get pennies they can put into a collection jar for Hurricane Sandy relief.

“Some do very well with hands-on activities,” DePiero said. “When they do paperwork, it’s different and they get frustrated, but with hands-on they really shine.”

The school recently came in second in New Jersey in the Keep America Beautiful Recycle-Bowl, with a program organized by first-grade teacher Deanna Walker. First place in New Jersey, and second place overall in the United States, went to Pleasantville Middle School.

It was while Shulby was at the Recycle-Bowl awards ceremony in March that Egg Harbor City resident and ACUA President Rick Dovey told her the milk cartons were now recyclable, she said.

According to the ACUA, the cartons, which can hold everything from milk to eggs, broth, juice and other foods, are mostly made from paper. They can be shelf-stable or need refrigeration. They have a thin layer of polyethylene (plastic) and/or aluminum that most people think of as a waxy substance.

The all-plastic juice pouches, such as those used by the Capri Sun brand, are not yet recyclable, an ACUA spokesperson said. But the mostly cardboard juice cartons are recyclable.

Shulby saw that as a chance to keep expanding the recycling program, and Warrakah was enthusiastic about using it as an incentive program for her students, Shulby said.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7219