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Recycling Renaissance

(illustration by Joaquin Romero) Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. We all know the slogan; it’s been driven into our heads since we were children. At this point, most of us don’t even give it a second thought. But what if we’ve been doing it wrong this whole time? Every day at lunch, I notice how much trash […]

(illustration by Joaquin Romero)

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. We all know the slogan; it’s been driven into our heads since we were children. At this point, most of us don’t even give it a second thought. But what if we’ve been doing it wrong this whole time? Every day at lunch, I notice how much trash CB students, produce, myself included, and wondered if we as a school are actually being environmentally conscious well, at all. Concerned, I talked with Mrs. Kelly Safford, head of the Environmental Club, and Madeline Madrid (‘19), head of the new Zero Waste Club, about CB’s attitude towards waste management.

So how well to the students and faculty of CB manage their waste? We have recycling bins and most people use reusable water bottles, but is this really enough? Unfortunately, Mrs. Safford puts it, “we can do a lot more”.

“In general,” she continued, “Americans have started to embrace the environment and how what we do affects it. But reducing and reusing are things most people don’t even think about it. They think recycling is enough.”

We all try recycle, but how often do we even think about the first two? We have the mentality that recycling will magically fix the environment, easy and done, but that is oh so far from the truth.

As Mrs. Safford explained, “recycling is the very last thing we should be doing.”

The sad truth is that most of us do very little to actually manage our waste. We have recycling bins, but how often do we take the time to figure out what goes where? For those of us that buy lunch, every day we use up countless paper plates, plastic utensils, and plastic packaging on all those cookies, not to mention how much actual food is thrown out as well.

And at home most of us aren’t much better. We might recycle, but how many of us reuse plastic bags? We are still in a drought, how many of us still conserve water? How many of us did in the first place? Do we look at the packaging on the food we buy? And on that note, how many people make full use of leftovers? How much food do we throw out every day?

With our obsession with recycling, many people feel justified to make more waste rather than reduce it.

But can we really be blamed? Recycling has been made relatively convenient, and most of us don’t have the time to monitor every little thing we throw away.

The vast majority of us don’t even know the full statement: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Rehome, Recycle, Rot. When put like that, it’s no wonder that we do relatively little to conserve. With little effort, Madeline does a lot to cut back.

Madeline’s zero waste kit

“I refuse what I don’t need, reduce what I do need, I repair, I reuse everything I can, I donate items I no longer need, and I recycle when I can,” she explained, “I carry around a Zero-Waste kit that has reusable utensils and a cloth napkin, and I have a notebook where I can log my waste”

Madeline also composts and makes a point of cutting back on animal products, since they use up more water and nutrients then they produce.

“It’s not hard, it’s just habit, and it makes you feel like a better person,” Mrs. Safford says.

The math teacher
does much the same as Madeline, but also focuses heavily on reducing water and electric waste.

“All of us Californians who lived through the drought…we can’t lose track of that,” she explained. She also makes a point of driving as little as possible and only using the dryer when it’s raining.

“Hanging your clothes is a solar powered clothes dryer. In the rest of the world they don’t use dryers as much because they ruin clothes.”

So if cutting back waste is just a conscious thought away, why don’t we all do it? The bottom line is that we are throw-away nation.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Both the Environmental and Zero Waste Clubs have a few handy tips for CB students and their families to better care for the environment.  Primarily, both clubs recommend cutting back on what you buy.

“You’d be surprised what we buy for vanity’s sake,” Madeline says.

This means asking yourself if you really need what you’re buying or if it’s just impulse. We tend to buy far more than we’ll ever eat, especially with food, . Impulse buying does nothing but waste money and create needless waste. But this also means being smarter with what we do purchase. Packaging amounts to a significant portion of an item’s price, and is often the most wasteful part. When shopping, simple actions like buying individual apples rather than a bag of them can cut out a lot of trash, even if the bag is recyclable. Other smart choices are to buy in bulk, which tends to be cheaper as well, and to buy boxed rather than bagged items.

This infamous graphic, placed outside Mrs. Safford’s room, has convinced hundreds of students to give up plastic bottles.

The next step to cut down on our garbage waste is to buy and use more reusable options. California legislation has already gone a long way to promote reusable tote bags, and hydro flasks have made many students use reusable water bottles. Beyond this, cloth napkins are a cheaper, greener, and more effective alternative to paper, and we should all try to use washable plastic containers instead of plastic bags. Though reusable items may seem like an investment and an inconvenience, they pay for themselves quickly in the long run.
Even small items like q-tips and razors have reusable alternatives, and many others have eco-friendly alternatives, such as bamboo toothbrushes.

And what do we do with all the waste we’re still producing? The key thing to understand is that much of it isn’t actually waste. We tend to throw away things the second they break, but try your hand at repairing them. And if that isn’t an option, look into re-purposing items. Old clothes especially can be turned into rags or even into cloth bags, and old bins and boxes, such as shoe boxes, are essentially free storage containers.

And how often do we use all the pages in our notebooks, yet we still get new ones every year? When all else fails, look into donating items before throwing them away. As long as they aren’t completely destroyed, people will find a use for almost any item.

Madeline and others in the Zero Waste Club have been turning old t-shirts into reusable tote bags.

But what about food waste? The sad fact is that almost all us throw away a lot of food, even if we don’t realize it. As a nation we are extremely picky and throw out any food that doesn’t look appetizing. We have no problem tossing what we don’t eat. If you don’t already save leftovers in your house, try it, and when you eat out, make a point of always taking home what you don’t eat.

If you already do save leftovers, make sure you store them correctly, and try to find ways to freeze food without plastic bags. And of course, for the waste you still produce, compost.

“Realistically not everyone can compost,” Mrs. Safford says, “but it’s easy on a household scale.”

Many people don’t have the space to compost or a reason to do it, but thankfully there are many local services that will collect food waste and compost it for you. And if you do choose to do it yourself, compost doesn’t have to be limited to just fruit and vegetable waste but can also include teabags, cardboard, paper, and yard waste like leaves and plant prunings.

A compost pile is easy to set up as well — just buy a bin, place it on some well-drained soil, and start adding material. There are a plethora of sources online to help with the specifics like the ratio of “brown” to “green” matter, how much to water, and when to turn, and the whole process can become a fast habit.

So if there is so much we can do at home to help with waste, what can we do at school? The simplest and most effective action is to watch where we put our waste. We often use the garbage and recycling bins interchangeably, and the sad result is that nothing actually gets recycled as a result. If we take the time to correctly recycle, we can make a huge difference.

Starting in January 2019, CB is also putting in a food waste bin, another way for us to better control what we throw out. Unlike a compost bin, both animal and plant waste should be put here. But is this really enough? If you’ve learned anything from reading so far, your already know the answer:

No.

According to the leaders of the Zero Waste and Environmental Clubs, both the students and the school itself can do a lot more. According to Madeline, the cafeteria is still a major source of needless waste, though cutting back poses many problems.

“I wanted to advocate for plastic trays,” she explained, “but we’d need to run the numbers on water waste. Paper plates are bad, but not as bad as some other things, and water is not as renewable as some people think. But the dump is not a place where plates can biodegrade. Biodegradable options for utensils would be a lot better — we just need to make sure they are cost effective and end up in industrial compost.”

Mrs. Safford proposed similar ideas, but also brought attention to the packaging on cafeteria items, especially the cookies and other individual items that are bought pre-packaged.

“It’s all about logistics,” she said, “The problem is that it’s more expensive.”

Both clubs are also in agreement on putting a compost bin in place at the same time as the food waste bin.

“We need to take the next step rather than limiting ourself with just food waste,” Madeline says. “It would be great, but it would take a lot of work.”

A compost bin would require a lot more work behind the scenes, and would need constant monitoring during break and lunch periods.

“It would take people to care,” Mrs. Safford says. “Everyone needs to buy into it. For now, the food waste is great”

The Environmental Club has set up bins for used markers and batteries to be collected for recycling.

Right now, both clubs are focusing on raising awareness and doing small things to cut back waste.

“It’s easy to tell people reduce, reuse, recycle,” Madeline remarked, “It’s hard to actually teach people to reduce, reuse, and recycle.”  

Mrs. Safford also put an emphasis on educating the student body.

“It has to be convenient and it has to be perfectly clear,” she explained, “We need visuals and an incentive.”

While changing people’s lifestyles is a slow and arduous process, both clubs are hopeful for the future.

“There is always going to be a group that doesn’t care,” Madeline admits, “It takes a lot to educate a group of teenagers who couldn’t care less. But there is also going to be the people who do care and will take the first step to change everything, and that will spread.”

While zero waste is quite a ways off for almost all of us, that doesn’t mean we can’t make progress towards that goal.

“Everyone is an environmentalist,” Mrs. Safford says. “Everybody wants clean air, less cancer. None of us like climate change, and if we all do little things we can make a difference.”

So what are we waiting for?  

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