Cathedral City's partnership with elementary and middle schools teaches children at an early age the importance of recycling and develops their creative skills.About 11 years ago, Cathedral, Calif., officials turned to local schoolchildren to help meet the city's yearly goal of diverting 50 percent of generated waste from landfills. Led by the city's Environmental Conservation Division (ECD) in partnership with SCRAP Gallery, a nonprofit Student Creative Recycling Art Project, local elementary and middle schools began creating innovative environmental programs that "place kids at the forefront of the city's mission to recycle and reuse discarded materials headed for the landfill," says Deanna Pressgrove, the city's environmental conservation manager.

The SCRAP Gallery offers all students field trips and arts and science workshops where they create works of art from trash, scraps and recycled materials. In the process, "kids and teens discover a creative and unique means of practicing the four R's: reduction, reuse, recycling and responsibility," Pressgrove says.

Last year, more than 10,000 children visited the SCRAP Gallery on field trips, and every year more than 300,000 people attend an exhibition at the county fair featuring SCRAP Gallery artworks from those students. More than 350 local businesses donate materials to the program, and more than 750,000 tons of waste have been diverted from local landfills because of the efforts of the ECD, SCRAP Gallery and local schools.

In response to their experiences at the SCRAP Gallery, students have instituted in-school recycling programs. ECD provides recycling bins and educational materials about proper recycling, and all local elementary schools now have in-school recycling programs.

In addition to in-school recycling, the partnership between the city and the schools has led to additional efforts to build a cleaner, greener community in a cost-effective way. For instance, when unsightly graffiti on the Dinah Shore Bridge needed to be covered, local elementary students worked with a SCRAP Gallery artist-in-residence to create a mural on the bridge using recycled paints. The bridge has remained graffiti-free since the cleanup in 2000.

To encourage students and others to dispose of their trash properly and keep city streets clean, ECD worked with students on a project to decorate trash cans. The partnership also focuses on community beautification.