Reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic long have been considered the three R's of education, the three basic skills that all children should learn in school.

While those remain the fundamentals of today's education, another set of three R's is crucial for students to learn, too: reduce, reuse and recycle.

If we can teach these concepts to our children when they're young, they'll develop good habits at an early age, and waste reduction and diversion will become a way of life rather than just another responsibility.

That belief is the motivation behind SWACO's efforts to create educational programming and resources for both schools and families.

We want to get our children on the path to environmentally responsible and sustainable living as early as possible.

Toward this end, SWACO convened representatives from several central Ohio schools and districts, asking them to identify priorities and strategies for effective waste reduction and diversion programs in schools.

The group was instrumental in helping to develop several tools and resources that make it easy for teachers to educate students about recycling.

These resources include lesson plans and activities for teachers, as well as information about competitions, grant opportunities, field trips and related curricula available from other organizations.

The group also helped develop SWACO's new school recycling program, which includes activities and resources specific to student instruction and staff training on the diversion of recyclable materials.

As part of this ongoing effort, SWACO next year will launch a School Recycling Champion program, which will make funding available for schools to upgrade and enhance their recycling programs.

SWACO also has been collaborating this past year with several public schools in Columbus and Hilliard, providing grant funds to pilot new food-waste prevention and reduction activities.

Lessons from these pilot programs are guiding the development of similar programs that will be available to other schools and districts in early 2020.

In addition to the development of these educational resources, SWACO awards Community Waste Reduction Grants to schools, nonprofits and government entities to support their innovative waste-reduction and diversion projects.

Hilliard City Schools received a $25,000 grant in 2018 to create waste-sorting stations in its cafeterias so students can easily and efficiently sort their breakfast and lunch waste into three containers: one for recycling, one for composting and one for the landfill.

In 2018, the district's 16 buildings with kindergarten through sixth-grade students diverted 73 tons of food waste from the landfill, and many of the schools are composting more than they're throwing away.

That's an impressive result in a short period of time.

Leaders hope to divert 70% or more of the district's breakfast and lunch waste from the landfill in three to five years.

Based on the success of the program in its first year, I have no doubt they'll reach their target.

The students' enthusiastic response to the program was just as impressive as the amount of waste they diverted. They eagerly and carefully sorted their breakfast and lunch waste.

We heard many stories of children who excitedly shared their newly gained knowledge with their parents, encouraging them to reduce, reuse and recycle at home.

We're happy to make these resources available to schools in Franklin County.

They'll make it easier for teachers to instruct children on how to minimize their environmental footprint, and they'll make it more fun for students to learn this information by getting them involved in hands-on activities that are as entertaining as they are educational.

By teaching our young people about the importance of waste reduction and diversion, we're instilling in them the knowledge and behaviors to become more responsible adults.

After all, the future of our earth will depend, in large part, on their stewardship of the environment.

Ty Marsh is executive director of SWACO. Questions about its operations may be directed to him at questions@swaco.org. His office provides this column to ThisWeek Community News.