Students neglect recycling program

For a district that prides itself in separated bins for compost, recycling and landfill, students have yet to uphold their obligation of individually and properly distributing their own waste into the appropriate bins, leaving Carmel High School at a loss for solutions, noted by everyone from district administrators to the students themselves.

“I have tried to encourage students to recycle by getting two blue bins in my classroom: one for only paper and another for bottles and cans,” Health teacher Leigh Cambra reveals. “I do this to try to eliminate the amount of trash that ruins the recycling. Nothing works. The recycling in my room still gets trash all over it.”

Cambra is not alone in this frustration as students’ inability or lack of care to separate their waste into recycling and compost has traveled outside the classroom doors. Among the dozen of bins around campus set up for the sole purpose of making the separation of waste as simple as possible, campus daytime custodian Florence Foster notes that the recycling bin is anything but.

“It’s impossible to recycle from the bins on campus because the students put so much that cannot be recycled in them,” Foster adds. “It’s contaminated recycling.”

At this point, the recycling that is properly separated is unsalvageable.

Despite attempts to make recycling a possibility, CHS did not always have such easy access to separate bins. Two years ago, the Carmel Unified District received a visit from Kimberle Herring of the Monterey Regional Waste Management that shed light on Carmel schools’ lack of participation in appropriate recycling.

“It was after [Herring] spoke with us that we decided there must be a change on our schools’ campuses,” interim chief human resources officer Ken Griest adds.

This was the catalyst for CHS’ addition of designated bins around campus, and since then students have begun to take advantage of these bins but not nearly enough.

It appears that Carmel Middle School is the best off in terms of recycling in the CUSD. Ecoliteracy teacher, Darrell Steely, leads the way in the separation of compost to recycling to trash on his campus. According to Steely, during the school week his students take every bin on campus to correct the separation of the waste, recycling and compost. Even though CMS has designated bins for each category, the students, like those at CHS, do not use them accurately.

The issue at the high school is that there is no real recycling leader for CHS.

“The closest thing CHS has to their ecolit class is the Environmental Club,” Griest comments.

While the Environmental Club does discuss ways to augment students’ participation in recycling, club president Katy Anderson notes there is only so much a club can do in contrast to a class that meets every day.

“We try our hardest to encourage students to recycle using the separate bins, but other than that we’re not really sure what to do,” Anderson says.

Environmental Club adviser Jason Maas-Baldwin corroborates this thought and adds that it is now up to the students to determine how much our school is going to recycle and compost.

There is no issue with the recycling in CHS classrooms, as noted by the nighttime custodians, because they merely take the recycling out of the blue bins in the classroom and put it in the larger bins to be picked up every Friday, separate from the landfill. This only occurs, however, if the waste in the classroom bins is truly recycling, or if the paper and cans in these bins is contaminated by the non-recyclable material, head custodian Jose Renteria comments.

“It isn’t much of a problem with the classroom bins,” Renteria adds. “Normally, I just need to separate a little and then I can recycle it.”

However, once contaminated, meaning landfill waste has mixed with the recycling and cannot be cleanly separated, there is really little custodians can do to save the recyclable material. It is simply not as easy for Foster or fellow custodians in regard to the bins around campus, and she is left with no solution other than to throw everything in the landfill.

The problem, though, may not lie within the district’s lack of care. Paula Terui, head of the district’s environmental committee, has provided all Carmel schools with the necessary materials to participate fully in an eco-friendly and sustainable way of living: composting and recycling everything that can be and nothing that cannot.

The consensus is that it is up to the students now to read the labels on each bin and discard their waste appropriately.

“It honestly takes no additional time,” Maas-Baldwin says. “The students just need to look at what they are throwing away and place it in the appropriate bin, and if there is any question, that’s what the signs are for.”

-Becca Goren