News Editor, Culture Editor
Every school day, students and teachers at LGHS throw their plastic wrappers, empty lunch bags, and excess paper into the recycling bins in hallways and classrooms. However, while many students choose to “recycle” their trash, most are unaware that at the end of the day, almost all waste from individual classrooms at LGHS is thrown into the same dumpsters as the regular garbage, which is then sent to landfills. The community of Los Gatos High School must be more aware of the environmental consequences that can arise if we don’t recycle, make fixing these issues a priority around campus, and properly implement on-campus recycling.
Science has proven that recycling is much better for the environment than throwing items away. According to AP Environmental Science teacher Amelia DeLaPaz, throwing garbage that could be recycled into the landfill is “filling up our landfills faster and releasing methane,” a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. By increasing greenhouse gas emissions, major environmental consequences arise; ocean levels rise, global temperatures rise, and glaciers melt. Although implementing campus recycling at LGHS may seem like it will make a small difference, the combined effect of recycling in future years can reduce greenhouse gas emissions greatly. Also, waste that could be recycled, but is instead thrown into landfills can leach harmful chemicals into oceans and ecosystems, damaging the overall health of humans and animals.
In the past, efforts were made at LGHS to implement classroom recycling, according to Spanish teacher Paddy O’Regan, who stated, “[now] we’re not really recycling at all… a couple years ago, there were several programs that were tried… it was a lot of work, and then of course [the] students graduated.” In the past, Ms. DeLaPaz offered APES students extra credit for monitoring trash, recycling, and compost bins at lunch in an attempt to alleviate some of the school’s waste problem and ensure that students correctly organized their lunch waste. Staff member Kim Burlinson also said that in her twenty years at LGHS, many programs sprouted for a year or two and made progress on campus. However, the programs required large time commitments from both students and teachers, usually proving to be too large of an effort to be continuously kept up. After each round of students graduate, lunchtime bins once again become a chaotic mixture of paper bags, lunchmeat, and plastic due to negligence and outright carelessness. While it is understandable that other problems may demand the attention of administrators, staff, and the rest of the school, the community as a whole must find the time to make recycling a permanent priority for the sake of our world and future generations. It cannot keep coming in waves every few years, destined to fizzle out again and again. As Assistant Principal and Head of Facilities Adam Minyard said, “I’m glad that we have [people] on campus making a push for this to be a priority again, because it needs to be a priority for us.”
By going green and living more sustainably, students can move towards the goal of finally implementing a successful recycling program at LGHS. Students must prioritize educating themselves and others on the basics of recycling and learn how to sort their trash correctly on campus. “A big huge piece of it is the education of students about what is recyclable and what is not,” said Minyard. “We’ve got to figure out how to educate the students to recycle in the right ways.” Those who continue to throw recycling into the campus trash bins can help by researching what can and can’t be recycled and spreading the word to their peers. Staff or student volunteers can post signs clarifying waste categories around campus, drop by O’Regan or DeLaPaz’s rooms at tutorial, or do a quick Google search to help the school move forward with a plan to implement total on-campus recycling. A possible joint program with the Leadership class in the future that would aim to fulfill this goal of educating students on recycling, however significant progress with this plan is yet to be made.
Recognizing the importance of recycling can enact massive benefits; if contaminated recycling drops to a minimum, there will be no reason for us not to recycle as much as possible. Garbage will take up less space in landfills, reduce our impact on climate change, and damage fewer ecosystems. Hopefully, students will recognize the environment as a finite source that must be conserved and learn to take action for their ecosystem. Students will develop a love, passion, and drive to protect, as well as set a positive, environmentally friendly example for the community around us and future generations of LGHS students. “We’re a really good high school,” says DeLaPaz. “What is the philosophy that we’re trying to cultivate for young people and how they treat their world?… We should be setting an example instead of doing what’s easy.” Yes, throwing your whole lunch bag into the trash is easier than sorting the clean paper bag from the plastic wrappers and compostable food scraps. But that doesn’t mean students can ignore the fact that their choices to not recycle or compost harm the environment everytime they choose to give in to the appeals of ease instead of taking responsibility for the trash they make.
But implementing on-campus recycling, according to O’Regan, doesn’t just start with students. “My goal is that all adult employees, in all the areas in non-classroom, like in our lunch, our offices, in our copy room, [will] be provided with a clean recycling bin that is truly deposited in the large recycling bin and never mixed with non-recycling material,” she said. “My desired outcome is that we have a position; someone that understands, oversees, and defends the success of our recycling program.” By starting in areas that are quieter, less crowded, and more controllable, O’Regan’s plan, which has been receptively reviewed by Principal Kristina Grasty, proposes that recycling be taken step by step, adding little to no stress to maintenance staff, and beginning “as soon as possible.” As soon as possible, that is, once LGHS chooses to start prioritizing the implementation of this plan and recycling as a whole.
Separate from the issue of actually recycling, El Gato News found that just about every subject surrounding trash collection is shrouded in uncertainty. Many teachers, students, and staff members aren’t even aware that the school is “fake recycling,” throwing material from classroom recycling bins away with trash. Even those who are involved with the issue received mixed replies at every level. When O’Regan talked to Minyard a few months ago, she heard that they weren’t sure whether or not the school was actually recycling. The latest DeLaPaz had heard from administration was that the trash collection company “doesn’t even want to pick up anything from us because our recycling is so contaminated,” an issue O’Regan found to be the exact opposite when she took it upon herself to call West Valley Collection and Recycling. Burlinson also mentioned that the company “tolerate[s] a lot of byproduct… it’s not like we have to be perfect or have this pressure to be perfect in order for it to be good enough… we just need to start.”
Superintendent Mike Grove wrote teachers about a month ago highlighting the importance of transparency, a goal that our school falls far short of when it comes to the issue of recycling. If the status of recycling does not change, there cannot continue to be “recycling” bins in classrooms that confuse and mislead those who truly want to protect the the environment. Due to this confusion, most students still throw paper and plastic waste into the small bins, which eventually ends up with garbage despite their attempts to separate their trash. Teachers cannot be receiving mixed answers about the basis our recycling company’s policies, nor can administration be ignorant of them either.
The communication issue doesn’t stop there: Despite O’Regan’s repetitive efforts to set up a meeting with maintenance staff to inform them of the new process and address any concerns, no meeting has been arranged, nor has the maintenance crew been given any information about a potential switch in the trash collection protocol. This meeting is crucial to ensure that a new plan would not add additional stress to the maintenance staff, a concern many raised when questioned about potential future plans. Despite O’Regan’s efforts, setting up this meeting has fallen to the bottom of the to-do list, resulting in information merely being “passed along” to the maintenance staff instead of offering an opportunity for all parties to participate in an open and active conversation. Staff members who have new ideas or have witnessed such programs at other schools, like Burlinson who has proposed convenient recycling bins and clear, separated trash containers, need to have an outlet to address their ideas with administration and propose solutions.
Despite the current situation at our school, students can still enact change individually by prioritizing using reusable containers, reusing the trash they produce, and taking home their recyclable materials or handing them over to teachers like Sra. O’Regan who has a recycling box under her desk that she takes home every day. “It’s reduce, reuse, recycle, in that order,” said DeLaPaz. “You want to make as little trash as possible, and then reuse whatever trash you make… and then recycling is the last step.” She points out that plastic baggies, tinfoil, and other “non-reusable” materials can actually be used multiple times by wiping off any crumbs or moisture. At home, students can also contribute to a healthy environment by composting. Community members can limit household waste by reusing food scraps and waste as compost – “it’s really easy… and there’s all sorts of ways that you can do it, but the key is just to start doing it,” said Agroecology teacher Philip Rosenblum. From this, students can reduce their external inputs by using the resulting compost as a natural fertilizer in small gardens. In the future, perhaps LGHS could even expand from a recycling to a composting program, either school-wide or just in the kitchens to reduce food waste.
By taking small steps and vigilantly keeping the campus clean and healthy, students and teachers can implement an effective plan to reduce landfill waste and finally move closer to the eventual goal of a permanent recycling program. LGHS students, teachers, and administrators must find the time to prioritize the success of a recycling program and show the students and whole community that protecting the environment is a primary concern.
LGHS Recycling Commitment Proposal:
Goal 1: All (adult) employee non-classroom work and lunch areas are provided with a “clean” (includes label specifying what is acceptable) recycling bin that truly is deposited in the large recycling pick-up bin and never mixed with non recyclable materials.
Goal 2: Leadership classroom and volunteer teachers are provided with a “clean” (includes label specifying what is acceptable) recycling bin that truly is deposited in the large recycling pick-up bin and never mixed with non recyclable materials.
Goal 3: All recycle bins currently not singularly used for recycling be removed.
Goal 4: Expand clean recycling to include weight room.
Goal 5: Leadership classes help with goals to expand clean recycling to student population.
(View full spreadsheet with more information here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4MYQf2eArOPU2szcG9CZmdrZHB0NEFtX0Y5ZjVSYmJfaEZZ/view?usp=sharing)