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Going green: trash and recyclables stay sorted

By Aleeza Zinn

The campus is dotted with green, blue and grey bins. Photo courtesy of Aleeza Zinn
The campus is dotted with green, blue and grey bins.
Photo courtesy of Aleeza Zinn

Contrary to popular belief, the school’s trash is and has been sorted properly for many years. Students and staff alike have questioned the system, and assumed that all three trash bins–landfill, compost, recycling–go into one dumpster outside of the industrial building on campus.

Senior Emeline McMann Chapman, commissioner of the environmental committee in the leadership class, admitted that she too thought all of the trash went into one dumpster. “It does look like they put it all in one dumpster. I believed it too at one point, until I talked to Dr. Griffith. That would be pretty awful if it was true. I would be really mad if it was,” said McMann Chapman.

Even administrative staff are unsure of the trash process. “It does get separated, probably not as well as most people would like, but on the left-hand side there’s the regular trash bin, and then we do have a mixed recycling bin. I have not seen a compost bin out there, I have to say, I don’t think we actually have a compost bin,” said Michael Lee, vice principal.

The school actually does have a compost bin, and a very clear system. “Of course we have [a bin] for composting. I’ve been working on this since 2000, for 17 years I’ve been working on the three stream sorting of trash. Seventeen years ago, we didn’t have three bins in every classroom.  Now we do,” said environmental science teacher Carolyn Griffith.

All three bins have specific waste items that can be placed in them, and while there is room for human error and therefore not perfect sorting, there is still a clear system.

The landfill bin is stereotypical ‘trash,’ like gum wrappers and styrofoam. This trash is the only one of the three bins that get buried at a landfill site. The recycling bin holds everything that can be reused, such as plastic bottles and scrap paper. The third bin is compost. This is all of the food waste that gets turned into new soil.

At Alameda High School, the process begins with “the custodians, the hard working custodians who have so much to do,” explained Griffith.

After the custodians place the trash bags into the dumpsters, the dumpsters get taken to various facilities. The first stop is the Davis St. Transfer Station. From there, the sorted trash goes to either the landfill, a recycling plant, or a commercial composting facility.

“So we have a system, and it works. Things do not get mixed up,” said Griffith.

The reason why people believed all of the trash was going into one dumpster is due to a simple misconception. The school produces mass amounts of trash, which means the custodians have many trash bags to take downstairs and out to the dumpsters. To make things easy, the custodians place all of the trash bags into one bin, which they then take outside. This is what triggered people to believe that all of the trash was going into one dumpster, because initially all of the bags go into one bin.

However, the custodians promptly sort the trash bags into the correct dumpsters, once taken outside.

“Sometimes it looks like they’re putting them together, but they’re not. They’re keeping them separate, and then they’re taking it out of the bin and putting it where it needs to go,” clarified Griffith.

The trash bags are transparent, which allow the custodians to differentiate between each type of waste and then place them in the correct dumpsters. Clear bags are fine for all types of waste, even compost. When the compost arrives at the commercial facility, the plastic bag is removed and taken to the landfill. All of the compost comes out, and goes to make soil.

“It really makes me upset when people don’t understand the role of the custodians and they just think the custodians are being lazy, because they are not. We have a system set up and they know what they’re supposed to do.  They’ve been trained, they’re professionals.  That’s their job,” said Griffith.

So, what can students and faculty do to aid with the sorting process, knowing now that the school’s process is in fact systemized?

Griffith recommends that we talk to each other, “because it’s an important thing that we all have to be in together.”

By sorting trash, you are decreasing global warming. When food waste goes to a landfill, methane is produced, which heats the earth.

There is even an incentive to sort and have a compost bin–residential homes only pay for landfill bins. You can acquire as many blue recycling and green composts bins as you like, and you will only be paying for the landfill.

“You can sort and you can get a smaller landfill bin, you save money. They’re encouraging you to do the right thing,” said Griffith.

The same incentive applies at Alameda High School. When all students sort their trash, not only are they preventing global warming, but the district will save money based on how many bins are taken to the landfill from the dumpsters.

“So you can do something every single day, several times a day, if you sort your trash correctly. And then you have to trust. Because the rest of it’s not your job. Your job is to sort as a student,” said Griffith.

A first step for students can be to talk to Griffith, or fellow student McMann Chapman. As environmental commissioner, McMann Chapman “implements different campaigns and projects to raise awareness and improve the environment of our school, [to] make it more sustainable.”

When asked how to bring awareness to sorting trash, McMann Chapman said to  “show [people] pictures of the giant landfills. All the sea animals that die, turtles with their necks stuck in plastic, show them that. That’s what can happen. Even if they think, ‘this one wrapper won’t affect anything,’ a seagull gets ahold of it, it’s going to die. Tell them they’re killing animals if they don’t sort their trash.”

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