By LILIAN MOHR
American high schools are notorious for their lack of conscientiousness regarding their environmental footprint. From the thousands of pieces of paper that are being used in high school campuses across the United States to trash cans overflowing with prepackaged snacks and sandwiches after the lunch breaks end, there is a definite need for action to be taken within school systems to reduce their daily production of trash.
Looking specifically at the Redlands East Valley campus, there are several major issues that, if addressed, could drastically alter the school’s contribution to liter and non-recyclable waste.
The sound of the printers across campus shooting out page after page of assignments, worksheets and essays need to stop. When you look in almost every student’s backpack, you will see binders and folders filled to the brim with scrap paper for homework and assignments that has accumulated over the course of the school year. Meanwhile, there are computer carts sitting mere feet away in almost every class on campus that could easily replace all this paper.
Taking a look at any teacher’s desk, you encounter this common sight: packets and papers and classwork piled high, waiting to be returned to students who will then most likely throw it away, if the teacher does not directly toss it into the trash. However, REV is not abnormal in their paper consumption when compared to the average American school district.
The Green House School Initiative states that “according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, which analyzes schools’ waste on a district-by-district basis, Alameda County schools alone dispose of more than 11,700 tons of paper waste every year.”
Once that paper is thrown out, it ends up in landfills “where 80% of discarded paper ends up,” and then “the decomposition of paper produces methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.” If REV is contributing to these real environmental issues, then the endless paper waste accumulated each day on campus must be addressed.
A possible solution is actually another one of REV’s fundamental problems in their attempts to be more environmentally conscious. The neglected recycling cans in every classroom just create more work for the janitorial staff and limit what items end up in the trash. After looking in several different classrooms, it was evident that the few items that are placed in the recycling cans are rarely even recyclables. Trash such as orange peels and chip bags are tossed in without a second thought; meanwhile, the trash cans sitting right next to the recycling cans are filled with paper and plastic. However, the problems don’t just stop in the classroom.
Once the lunch bell rings and the masses flood out of their classes and into the quad, plastic bag after plastic bag is ripped open and then promptly thrown away. These pieces of trash only occasionally make it directly into the trash can, leaving the security and janitorial staff to pick up after the students.
Sidney Boursaw, sophomore at REV, says that “all the trash left after lunch is gross and it’s really disrespectful to the people who have to clean up after us.”
REV vice principal, Ronald Kroetz, also has an opinion on the litter left over during lunchtime. “The trash that students leave on campus is a big concern of mine. The recklessness of some students to just throw trash on the ground is terrible. Staff at REV have all stepped up to help, but I’d like to see more students involved in the solution,” Kroetz states.
In a study done by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on the trash production of six different Minnesota schools, it was discovered that “Minnesota K-12 public schools generate an estimated 483,520 pounds of waste per day” but “over 78% of school waste could be diverted from the trash to organics composting and container/paper recycling collection programs.” This means that high schools across the country, just like REV, are producing an excess amount of waste at lunchtime when the majority of it does not have to end up in a landfill.
If there were serious steps taken throughout the campus, such as providing different cans for different types of recyclables or setting up compost bins, there could be a significant decrease in the amount of waste that leaves our school.
The district has just released information that there is the possibility for change in the upcoming school year that could help to reduce the amount of trash produced at lunch. Kroetz is leading the charge with a new plan to introduce three different cans in the quad that will sort the lunchtime waste into compost, recyclables and trash.
“New California laws are requiring us to reduce our waste by up to 75%. In an effort to meet that goal, we will be going through a two phase transition to recycle more and throw away less,” Kroetz states. “Phase one will be the addition of a blue recycling can next to every trash can on campus. Phase two will be the addition of a third can for organic waste, such as food.”
Taking action to make real changes like this new plan to alter lunch waste production within high schools is essential. Students spend over eight hours, five days a week, at school; and if there is strong encouragement here to create a more sustainable future, then hopefully students will start taking these crucial steps at home as well.
If the administration really wants to see change, then they cannot just stop with the lunch project. Environmental education deserves more attention within the classroom, and repercussions for littering or vandalizing the campus must be strengthened and enforced. If a school’s job is to educate the next generation, then schools must also do their part to ensure that there will be a future for the next generation to learn in.