Tri-county First Lego League learns about recycling at local facilities

Published 9:02 am Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye  Members of the NFS First Lego League Team watch as aluminum cans get separated from tin cans at the Carter County Recycling Center.

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye
Members of the NFS First Lego League Team watch as aluminum cans get separated from tin cans at the Carter County Recycling Center.

While many of their friends were enjoying the outdoors for the last holiday weekend of the summer, a group of local kids spent part of their Saturday learning how to make their community and world a cleaner place by visiting the Carter County Recycling Center and Landfill.
Members of the Nuclear Fuel Services First Lego League team visited the two locations as part of their annual team project, said Heather Petterson, one of the team’s coaches.
First Lego League is a club designed to help get youngsters ages 9-14 more interested in STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — fields. The team that visited the recycling center and landfill Saturday is sponsored by Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin and includes kids from Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties. The program is in its first year.
“First Lego is still new in this area, and Nuclear Fuels was excited to see it grow,” Patterson said.
As part of the program, the students must develop a project each year that meets the national organization’s theme and guidelines and deals with a real-world issue.
“Every year, the program has a challenge, and this year it is a Trash Trek,” Petterson said. “They have to develop a project around recycling.”
Because this year’s challenge deals with trash, recycling and reusing items, Petterson said she and fellow team coach Darrell Whipkey thought it would be a good idea for the team to see the operations at the landfill and recycling center in order to help them develop their challenge project.
Once the team completes its project, the members can then take their project into competition against other First Lego League teams.
“They have a qualifier in December where they will be going up against 40 other teams from East Tennessee,” Petterson said, adding the top teams there will go on to compete at the state level at an event in Cookeville in February.
As the team toured the two county facilities on Saturday, Carter County Solid Waste Manager Benny Lyons, who oversees both operations, talked to the kids about what happens to household waste once its tossed and how recycling benefits not only the local community but the world as well.
“Did you know that recycling one aluminum pop can saves enough energy to power a TV for up to three hours?” Lyons asked the group.
During the tour of the Recycling Center, Lyons showed the team how items are separated and packaged before being sent to facilities to be recycled. The team got to see some of the equipment in action, including a conveyor that separates aluminum cans from cans made with heavier metals, like soup cans as well as an industrial scale used to weigh bales of recycled material.
The kids watched with wonder as Lyons explained some of the things that can be made with recycled materials and he even showed them the furnace at the recycling center, which uses old motor oil to heat the building.
The tour of the Recycling Center concluded with the children receiving goodie bags courtesy of the Carter County Sheriff’s Department. The bags contained items, including a t-shirt, featuring a stop litter message.
For more information on the First Lego League, visit the organization’s website at

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox