By Jenny Lee & Olivia Middien
Photo by Evan Ng
Although nearly every classroom houses a green recycling bin, most of these bins ultimately do not make it to the plant; due to contamination within the recycling bins, South does not consistently recycle, a symptom of general environmental apathy in the community.
The Sustainability Squad, a new student-led club focused on increasing school-wide climate literacy, has been working closely with members of the South Senate to address long-standing recycling issues.
South senator and member of the Sustainability Squad, junior Max Hawthorne said that many students don’t know about the current recycling issue at South.
“It’s really interesting how few people at our school are aware of the issue itself,” he said. “The issue is most things in recycling bins are not being recycled at all, and the teachers that I speak to seem to be very well aware of it. To them, this is an ongoing issue that they’ve seen over and over again.”
Sophomore Emma Yao said her knowledge of the recycling issue at South is limited.
“I haven’t heard a lot of people talking about it specifically, but since we have so many mice problems, I’ve had a suspicion that our trash and recycling systems are not that great,” she said.
History teacher Michael Kozuch said that the school’s recycling issue drives teachers to take matters into their own hands.
“Some of us teachers even take stuff home to get recycled in our own personal recycling bins, just to try to ensure that it actually gets recycled,” he said. “The problem is not visible to everyone,” he said. “There are some teachers who don’t know that there are problems with our recycling. A part of the solution is to make people aware of what’s happening and how to fix it.”
However, this issue has not been easy to solve; South senator and sustainability squad member Marty Basaria said that the contents of trash and recycling aren’t being separated.
“I’ve seen custodians just dump their recycling and trash into basically the same thing,” he said. “And you can sometimes see it this year where they pick up both the trash and recycling and just dump it and it eventually gets disposed into the same dumpster.”
Thus, Hawthorne said that there is only so much that the Senate can do to solve the issue.
“Senate is famous for being really inefficient, [so] what can we do ourselves?” he said. “Physically going out and just putting up these posters instead of sending 30 emails to Mr. Williams about logistics. First, print the posters, and get students aware about it. I’m using my position to kind of make it more efficient.”
Sustainability Squad leader and senior Sasha Fine said the group drew inspiration from history teacher Andrew Thompson’s Sustainability course; their work has developed into a collaboration with the Senate.
“Sustainability is a course with Mr. Thompson. He encouraged many of his students to meet during WIN blocks, there were only a couple of us that came consistently and we formed the club from there,” she said. “We started collaborating with Senate a lot, and then there was also an environmental club. In the last two months, we started working together.”
Basaria said the Squad has found a way to encourage recycling while avoiding the challenges that come with passing a bill by teaching students about recycling through posters.
“We found a faster solution and this is spreading posters around the school encouraging healthy recycling behavior and giving a guide about how to recycle items,” he said. “It’s a small yet big way to create change without having to go through administration. It’s a small step towards a bigger goal.”
Vice Principal Jason Williams said a possible first step for the Squad could be providing more recycling bins around the school.
“It’s just a matter of whether we’re able to recycle, as we only do it in some parts of the building,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you exactly where, but it is a good task for a sustainability group to take on the inventory of where there are recycling bins and where there aren’t recycling bins.”
Fine said she hopes that the Sustainability Squad can ultimately inspire South to help the environment.
“People can come to the Sustainability Squad, bring their ideas and network with other people who care about the environment,” she said. “It has the potential to impact the student body to become motivated about changing the environment.”