My youngest son and I were walking through an elementary school yesterday, after hours, and passed a small pile of trash that was obviously the result of the custodian sweeping a classroom. I thought I saw a couple of pencils in the pile, but kept walking . . . until we came upon a second pile of trash.
“Are there pencils in that pile?” I asked out loud, already knowing the answer (and already bending down to pick them up). One, two, three . . . nine pencils in this one pile.
Perhaps the custodian goes through the piles, once he’s finished sweeping, to glean the good stuff that got swept up with the bad. I tend to think he doesn’t. It’s a big school, with lots of piles, so it’s hard to blame him. Even I paused before rescuing them – those piles are pretty gross – but I was more worried about embarrassing my son than getting my hands dirty.
“Sorry,” I said to him. “Does it embarrass you when I do things like that?”
“No,” he said, rather nonchalantly. “Those aren’t trash.”
I’m so glad he sees that.
I’ll share the story of these pencils, along with other treasures I’ve rescued from trash piles, when I talk with students about recycling, upcycling, and creative reuse. The secret, of course, is to teach them to see the value in these treasures before they get swept up with the trash.