In the last few months, REDO has been working with West High School to help get better recycling established, and they are now well on their way to diverting tons of cans, bottles, and other waste away from the landfill! How did this happen? Well, the Environmental Club decided that it was going to make recycling a top priority for the 2018-19 school year. Shout outs should be given to the excellent work they did, and to those who supported them along the way! Andie Madson is the Environmental Club President, and she worked to make sure the recycling program was student led. She held meetings with stakeholders and created a plan for the program’s implementation. Greg Libecci is the Energy and Resource Manager for the Salt Lake City School District, and he is no less than an expert on local recycling programs. He met with REDO and the Environmental Club several times throughout the planning process to provide guidance. The custodial staff was also very supportive and took time to talk with students and develop new routines for picking up the recycling bins. REDO helped West High establish recycling by attending meetings, offering advice and requesting the appropriate signage. Recycle Across America (RAA) provided 100 standardized recycling signs. Thank you RAA, and thank you Merchology for making the donation so that West High could have the signs!
The work West High School is doing to recycle is really important. Unfortunately, in most cases it’s not so easy to establish a recycling program in a school. In fact, many schools don’t have any programs at all. There are about 100,000 schools in the U.S., and Michele Nestor of Nestor Resources Inc. estimates that fewer than 40% of all public schools in the U.S. recycle. And there are a few reasons for that. For one thing, there’s a lot of politics involved. Students, teachers, custodial staff and the administration must all work together in order for the program to be a success. That can be challenging when all parties involved are working very hard already, and there isn’t necessarily someone on staff who specializes in recycling like in the case of West High. Another issue is that the cost of single stream recycling (recycling where cans, bottles, and other materials all go in one bin) has gone up. Some schools, like Weber School District in Northern Utah, are having to call it quits on their recycling programs because they can no longer afford it.
Many organizations are trying to make recycling accessible to schools by engaging students and tackling the cost issue head on. For example, in the last 8 years, Keep America Beautiful has put on a recycling competition called Recycle Bowl and at this point, 4,400 schools have participated. Recycle Across America produces easy-to-read signage for recycling and other forms of waste. They donate signs to schools, like they did at West High, and provide information for program implementation. Recycle Utah has an education program that helps elementary and middle schools learn about how recycling impacts natural resources. Momentum Recycling, a glass recycling facility in Salt Lake City, provides virtual tours to help students understand how glass is processed. GreenFiber collects paper and cardboard from some school districts in Utah, and in return, gives schools financial incentives. There are many creative solutions to the current challenges of establishing recycling programs in schools. The first step to getting a program running is simply asking the question, “Can we do it?” In the case of West High, the answer was a resounding, “Yes!”
Going forward at West High, the Environmental Club figures that the first few months are critical for the program’s success, so they’re taking steps to educate their peers on how to recycle the right way. They’ve established a group of students who volunteer to monitor the recycling bins at lunch. This ensures that students aren’t contaminating the recycling with food and other non-recyclable items like plastic bags. The team is hopeful that after a few months, the recycling habit will have formed among students and the program will inspire young people to think more about their impact on the environment.