GROTON -- Think before you throw!

That's the motto for the Recycling Club at Groton-Dunstable Middle School -- and it was described as crucial for the planet's long-term health at a pair of special assemblies that were held in the Performing Arts Center at the school on Jan. 22 for students and teachers. It was necessary to hold two assemblies to allow the entire middle school population to attend.

That case was made primarily by guest speaker Julian Rodriguez-Drix, who said that consumer culture has created a situation where the average American is taking up roughly 20 football fields of space, just to produce and accommodate everything they buy, use or throw away. Put end-to-end, those football fields are more than a mile wide; counting the entire school, he said it's greater than the distance from the school to Washington D.C. And there are schools all over the state, he added, saying that trend isn't sustainable.

"If everyone lived like Americans, we would need five Planet Earths to provide enough space for all the people," he said. "We are making a mess with all this over-consumption."

Speaking to a packed auditorium, Rodriguez-Drix dovetailed that issue with climate change, saying the production of consumer items currently requires huge amounts of energy drawn primarily from burning fossil fuels.


That, in turn, has resulted in millions of tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere each day, essentially turning up the planet's thermostat to unprecedented levels.

According to Rodriguez-Drix, humans have already changed the earth's temperature by 1.5 degrees, with scientists anticipating another three to seven-degree increase during the next century. Given that the world's average temperature was only 11 degrees lower during the last ice age, catastrophic results are predicted from the current trend. Fatal heat waves, droughts and increasing intense weather patterns (such as massive hurricanes) are the likely outcomes, he said.

However, Rodriguez-Drix said it doesn't have to be that way. He encouraged students to become leaders for initiatives that can help the planet, urging them to "buy green," support renewable energy, and reduce waste in general. If enough people get involved, the human race could be carbon neutral by 2050.

"I'm not just here to tell you how messed up the world is," he said. "What we're really here to do today is talk about what we can do."

"We've got less than 10 years left to make all these necessary changes," he said. "If we miss that window, things can start changing faster than we can keep up with it. Future generations are depending on us."

Rodriguez-Drix is a speaker from the Alliance for Climate Education, a nationwide non-profit that recently open a New England office in Rhode Island. Its mission is to inspire students to work for change, focusing their energies on environmental issues.

He was invited to Groton-Dunstable at the urging of the school's recycling club, "Roots & Shoots." This was the second presentation by ACE in Groton public schools in the last month, as ACE brought its powerful message to the high school in an assembly held in December.

Both assemblies, and ones to be held soon at both Florence Roche and Swallow Union, are being encouraged by Superintendent Alan Genovese, who has been working together with each of the principals within the district and the local Roots & Shoots group, focusing on what he has termed GDRSD's "Recycling Initiative," about which he feels very strongly.

He is encouraging all within the GDRSD community to do their part in reducing the amount of waste in our schools and, as well, collecting more that can be recycled, challenging everyone with the question, "Are we recycling all that we can?"

After Rodriguez-Drix's presentation at the middle school, students from the club performed a handful of short skits advising their peers to be more environmentally aware. Members of the school's Student Council spoke about their initiative to promote the use of reusable water bottles, not so much as a fund-raiser but in their capacity as the student leaders in the middle school community. Their hope is to encourage their peers to do the right thing in trying to reduce the number of plastic water bottles brought into school daily by promoting the use of reusable ones. A variety of reusable water bottles with the Crusader logo will soon be available at each of the school stores within the district.

Among the speakers was fifth grader Cary Peregoy, who said, on average only 25 percent of disposable drinking containers get recycled. This equals a huge -- and unnecessary -- impact on the Earth, she said.

"The average person uses 157 plastic, non-reusable bottles per year," she said. "Why not your own reusable water bottle? Why not fill it every day with your water from home?"

A similar message was put forward by substitute teacher Nancy Ohringer, who said she started the Recycling Club three years ago with eighth grade science teacher Dorothy Dwyer, in the hope of inspiring students and teachers to adhere more to the directive "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle."

Over the next couple of years the group's name has evolved from the Recycling Club to the Green Team to now Roots & Shoots and Ohringer said the focus has widened to include students doing community service that focuses on environmental issues.

"Roots & Shoots is an international organization begun by Jane Goodall, which inspires students around the world to form their own Roots & Shoots organizations within their community," said Ohringer. "The program is all about making positive change happen for communities, animals and the environment. We are fortunate to have Stacey Chilcoat from the Nashua River Watershed Association as our Roots & Shoots coordinator. Stacey brings to the students her lifelong commitment to protecting the environment through education and service learning."

Name changes aside, Ohringer said promoting and encouraging recycling remains a major focus of the group. "There's still room for improvement when it comes to paper and plastic recycling in the classrooms and cafeterias, however. "The hope is to increase awareness of the critical importance of recycling and how we should all do our part in capturing more recyclable items which can be taken to the Transfer Station and eventually made into new products," said Ohringer.

The alternative to recycling was outlined by seventh grader Chris Ellis, who credited his father with making him environmentally aware.

He said his family of four produces only one bag of trash each week. Ellis said he's always enjoyed the recycling part of trips to the transfer station but was inspired to get involved when his father said that previous generations just buried everything in landfills. That disposal method has since given way to the burning of waste in massive incinerators, he said, adding that his family wants to contribute as much as possible to reducing waste.

"By burning trash we contribute to global warming and deterioration of the ozone layer," he said. "We should all follow the advice of our Green Team and think before you throw."