In the third floor G wing, a recycling bin becomes the receptacle for both paper and plastic recyclabes. The bins are strictly meant to collect paper & cardboard recyclables only. Photo by Namratha Prasad.
by Namratha Prasad, FEATURES EDITOR
19 March 2019
Over 2,000,000 sheets of paper. East uses approximately 2,185,886 sheets of paper in one school year. When students who care enough to recycle throw their worksheets in the recycling bin, they trust that the school does the environment well. They trust that paper in the recycling dumpster. In recent years, the rumors of the school throwing all waste in the dumpsters have accumulated. It turns out these students can no longer trust if their paper really goes in the right bin.
Administration explained that East has not had a set program in place in its entire history. The school has recycled before, but it was up to students to take the recycling down. However, custodian John Lasky explained that the student-led initiative was a program that was implemented at one point, but the “program” East has put in place now is a stark difference.
“I wouldn’t even want to call it a program because there is no program. It’s up to the individual custodians as to what we do with it,” Lasky said.
With custodians being responsible for what happens to the school’s waste, the question becomes more individual-based, rather than school-wide. All custodians have the right to do what they want with the recycling, according to administration. Lasky, for instance, has his own routine. On Fridays, he takes the recycling out, but not before he must sift through the bins, and take out the trash from the paper, which he says most custodians are not willing to do.
The publication did not reach out to each custodian for comment.
“I would say half [the custodians] do, and half of them on a daily basis just take the blue bins and dump them in the regular garbage and get rid of it that way,” Lasky said. “There’s one or two of them who completely ignore [the blue bins] like they don’t exist, because they don’t think it’s their business to deal with it.”
There is no regulation in place for the custodians to be required to recycle. Assistant Principal Margaret Darnell added that there are simply not enough hours in the day to sift through the recycling. She said if students throw wrappers in the bins, it is the students’ responsibility to put them in the trash, to alleviate the stress of picking through the bins.
“I can’t expect the custodial staff to pick through each recycling bin in every classroom,” Darnell said.
The only things that East recycles on its own are papers and cardboard items. Other than that, the AP Environmental Science students pick up plastic water bottles from designated bins when they can. However, most classrooms do not have this yet, and students who try to recycle often put their plastic bottles in the paper only bins.
Darnell explained that when students put their trash in the recycling bins, there is no one to pick up after them.
“If the recycling is mixed with garbage, it is collected as trash,” Darnell said.
“I can’t expect the custodial staff to pick through each recycling bin in every classroom.”
— Assistant Principal Margaret Darnell
A student-led program
Lasky explained that it is up to the students to make sure their items get recycled. He said simply throwing away a wrapper in the trash bin right next to the recycling bin would make the custodians’ jobs much easier.
“Most of the custodians would hope that sooner or later [a student-led] program comes back, and that the students and teachers take responsibility for it, because in most of the rooms, kids just dump garbage into the recycling bins,” Lasky added.
According to custodian Michael Rubolino, the reason the custodians find it hard to recycle is because of time constraints. Custodians must set up the gyms, chairs, tables, and conference rooms for the school, in addition to responding to maintenance requests throughout the day.
“A lot of the times, when we go through the [recycling], there are all types of wrappers and stuff that are not supposed to be in the recycle, and we don’t have time to go through it all, so most times we just dump it because we don’t have time to do it,” Rubolino said.
Even though the custodians said they have no time to recycle, Lasky claimed that the student-led program East implemented seven years ago worked. He explained that the way that program was run, the recycling was taken out and was actually put in the bins.
“There was a teacher who was in charge of it, and they would have students go and collect them maybe once or twice a week, and they would take them outside and dispose them in the proper places, which is probably the easiest way to do that,” Lasky said.
To what extent do you care that East does not recycle as much as it should?
POLL BASED ON A CROSS-SECTION OF EAST STUDENTS
AP Environmental Science students are up for the task
The problem is, according to administration and custodians, that students put non-recyclable items in the bins. Although it is not outwardly advertised, the bins in classrooms are only for paper and cardboard. However, AP Environmental Science students have created a student-led program to collect plastic bottles. Senior Edward Borwick, a teacher’s assistant for science teacher Connor Downs, helps collect the recycling for the bottles that students who want to recycle their plastic bottles can find in their science classrooms.
“We did this because last year a group did this as their semester-long project to show how much plastic is used,” Borwick said. “Now we have a plastic-specific recycling bin outside that is filled with just bottles.”
The plastic bottles are an additional $15 to recycle through the AP Environmental Science program. However, the AP Environmental Science students such as senior Preston Beth try their best to do their part and help the environment. Beth explained that the plastic bottle bins are very limited throughout the school, but the students in AP Environmental Science are trying to fix that issue.
“[East could] collect water bottles around the school. Right now we only do this for the G-Wing,” Beth said.
The AP Environmental Science students collect the bottles in their free time, but it becomes difficult for them to implement their program around the whole school. However, Borwick explained that the students are thinking of expanding their program to a wider scale to help the environment and the school become a more recycling-friendly atmosphere.
“We have talked about putting more plastic bottle only bins in other classrooms. We just need more bins for bottle specific recyclables,” Borwick said.
Did you know that East’s blue recycling bins are for paper products only?
POLL BASED ON A CROSS-SECTION OF EAST STUDENTS
The high cost of helping out
Administration claimed that a major concern is that once bottles and other items that are not supposed to be in the recycle get in the bins, waste management will charge the school. However, the school has never reached that point because throwing recyclables in the trash have no repercussions. AP Environmental Science teacher Connor Downs said that he has a theory as to why recycling is made so difficult at East.
“I think it has to do with cost. I think the district is just not willing to spend the money. Not only just collection, but the people we would have to hire [would be more money],” Downs said.
Darnell confirmed that waste management will charge the school if they find trash in the recycling, but it has nothing to do with the district. In fact, she explained that students cannot be throwing trash in the recycling bins. According to her, the fate of recycling at East rests upon the students’ shoulders.
“It’s up to the students to be responsible about what they put in the recycling bins,” Darnell said.
Borwick explained that when he picks up the plastic bottles in the classrooms, he finds almost nothing in the recycling bins, and all recyclable items end up in the trash.
“I’m not surprised. I see what’s in the garbage when we pick up the bottles, and nothing is in the recycle,” Borwick said.
While Lasky said that a student-led program would help, building engineer Joseph Mikalajunas said that even with the student-led program, recycling seems to be tough for the custodians.
“When the students implement a program, there is no follow through from them,” Mikalajunas added.
A poll conducted by this publication on March 4th found that almost 16 percent of those polled did not care at all that East was not recycling. In addition, a little more than a third of those polled indicated that they significantly cared that the school was not doing all that it could to recycle properly.
According to Downs, students and adults who plan to recycle do not understand that the recycling at East only encompasses paper and cardboard due to the lack of motivation to learn the guidelines. In many classrooms, the trash bins and recycling bins look identical.
“Now this is a recycling bin, but I had to put a garbage bag in it because there was trash at the bottom of it,” Lasky said.
Even the dumpsters behind the school are filled with cardboard and paper, and because East does not have enough recycling bins, Mikalajunas explained that these dumpsters being filled are likely the result of East not having enough bins outside of the school.
“When the recycling dumpster gets filled, we have to put the extra recyclables in the dumpster,” Mikalajunas said.
About 72 percent of students at least somewhat care about this predicament. Beth said that he has read many articles and stories on social media about the impact of trash on the world, and it has become a growing concern for him.
“I know recycling helps with the environment, so I wanted to do my part in helping,” Beth said.
Borwick explained that recycling is important to him because he really cares for the environment. Although he was not surprised by the news, he hopes that East fixes the problem in the future.
“Recycling is definitely important because you see how polluted our waters are and change needs to happen no matter how small it is,” Borwick said.
Namratha Prasad is the Features Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl.