It’s 1:14 on a Tuesday in the Carmel High School amphitheater. Lunch has just ended, and all the students have cleared out to class. The amphitheater has not been returned to its typical, picturesque state.
In the students’ wake lie milk cartons, grapes and carrots. A granola bar wrapper flutters across the turf, catching on the plastic blades of grass. Plastic cutlery is strewn across the steps, accompanied by bigger, more intrusive waste. An empty Muscle Milk container lies on its side, a few feet away from a full plate of food. Then the seagulls begin to fly in, attacking what’s been left behind, eating some but leaving most to bake in the mid-afternoon sun.
Litter on the CHS campus has been, and continues to be, a major problem.
Custodian Florence Foster is the primary handler of trash at CHS, explaining that despite the administration’s efforts over the years, the litter problem has proved impossible to eradicate.
“I have to pick up the trash,” Foster says. “The night custodians do some, too, but I’m here all day, and I pick up trash all day, sometimes for four or five hours. The kids just leave it and walk away.”
One of the main hubs of litter at CHS is the amphitheater, a popular location during lunch for eating and socializing. This year, the amphitheater has been closed off on several occasions, often for days at a time due to excessive littering.
Assistant principal Tom Parry explains that this procedure of closing down the amphitheater usually proves effective in stemming the trash flow—for a while.
“It seems to come in waves,” Parry says. “If the problem has gotten bad and we’ve warned [the students], we’ll close the problem area down for a few days, and then it will get better.”
Some students are privy to the problem as it occurs, like freshman Jeremiah Lamph, a regular of the amphitheater at lunch.
“People will throw things, like carrots, tomatoes, apples, even water bottles, and then people just don’t throw away their trash,” Lamph says.
The problem extends beyond the amphitheater as well. Walking the halls of CHS, there are food wrappers and forgotten plastic bags at short intervals, and according to science teacher Kevin Buran, students have a hard time finding the trashcan in classrooms, too. Buran allows students to eat in his classroom, but despite his best efforts, their trash doesn’t seem to find the designated bins.
“Students treat the sinks like garbage cans, and there’s crap everywhere,” Buran adds. “It’s incessant. Every day I’m cleaning up. I’m always mentioning it to them, but it never sticks.”
There are disciplinary methods in place for repeat offenders, but according to Parry, nothing seems to permanently put an end to the problem.
“I’ve given kids lunchtime detention for throwing trash repeatedly, but it rarely gets worse than that,” Parry says. “And we’re not always perfect at it, obviously, but what we’ll do is walk around at lunch and make sure kids don’t litter.”
The underlying question of the CHS litter problem is why it is a problem at all, and the answers seem unclear. The only sure explanations are tendencies of carelessness and inattentiveness, and when an issue is difficult to pinpoint, a solution is equally as hard to come by.
Some faculty members, like Buran, have entertained the idea of adding more trash cans around campus, assuming that if throwing away trash was more convenient, students would be less inclined to simply leave it on the ground.
Apparently, CHS has tried trash can additions in the past to no avail. Foster explains that while adding trash cans has been a temporary fix in the past, it has never lasted long. Students will remember the trashcans at first and for a while, but they inevitably return to their old ways. She goes on to say that after seventeen years of working here, the problem has never been so prevalent than in recent years.
“I think part of it is just that students just don’t think about it,” Buran adds.
Though the litter problem certainly isn’t unique to CHS, it seems to be one of the most notable problems at a generally environmentally conscious school.
“At other schools where I’ve worked,” Parry says, “I’ll be walking around, breaking up fights and making sure kids are safe. But here, I’m making sure people are picking up their trash.”
Other students have taken it upon themselves to be a part of the solution to the trash problem, making sure to do their part when others won’t.
One such student is junior Kenshi Husted, an advocate for the cleanliness of Carmel High.
“During lunch, I’ll clean up the green tables around the cafeteria and pick up trash whenever I see it,” Husted explains. “I’ve seen it happen where someone will tell a person to pick up their trash, and the person will just look at them and walk away.”