Relatively few households in Estill County take advantage of free household recycling, but the number is up substantially thanks to a small group of youngsters who got summer jobs in a program called Greening the Bluegrass.
There were only 120 families in the county taking part in the free recycling program. The Estill County team — which called itself the Jolly Green Giant — offered any family that signed up for recycling a chance to win one of two organic backpacks.
Ninety families took them up on the offer.
The team — five students and a coach — also drew up a weeklong set of environmental lessons for the county's elementary schools.
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"We feel that since no one else will step forward to do recycling in schools, the students will do it," team member T.J. Luster said.
The Jolly Green Giant won the Greening the Bluegrass competition, which involved about 50 economically disadvantaged young people in teams of three to six each from 11 Central Kentucky counties.
The program ended with judging and a luncheon Wednesday at the Embassy Suites in Lexington.
Each member of the winning Estill County team was given a laptop computer and printer.
All the participants were paid $7.25 an hour for spending up to 30 hours a week trying to figure out ways to "green" their counties. Coaches for each team also were paid. The program, administered through the Bluegrass Area Development District, was paid for with $135,000 in federal stimulus funds.
The team from Fayette County came in second. It plans to end its effort on Thursday by stenciling warnings of storm sewer drains. The warnings point out that the drains lead to streams, an implied reminder not to pour in things like used motor oil.
In third place was the team from Powell County, which called itself the Green Mafia.
That team handed out energy-efficient light bulbs donated by a local electric cooperative and got the county to agree to pick up orange recycling bins from local schools.
Most teams concentrated on recycling efforts. A lot of them met with local officials, with various degrees of success. Their presentations to judges Wednesday varied widely. One group, in a presentation of alternatives to fossil fuels, listed "electricity." More than 90 percent of Kentucky's electricity comes from burning coal.
The people running the program were enthusiastic about the results.
"This is the first time ever for a program of this type," said Bobby Clark, president of a non-profit corporation called Kentucky Student Ventures.
Jonathan Miller, who as secretary of the state's Finance and Administration Cabinet is responsible for many of the Governor Steve Beshear's administration's environmental efforts, spoke briefly at the luncheon.
"You are on the cusp of something great," he told the students.
He also said that social networking sites were going to be the wave of the future in spreading environmental awareness, and invited those present to join his other 5,000 friends on Facebook and his several hundred Twitter followers.
Those who participated in the program have a chance to become the next "Great Generation," with a mission of saving the environment, Miller said.
"This is not a light message, this is a very heavy message," he said. "The world is on your shoulders."