Special education students run lunchtime recycling program

by Sophie Yang, ’19

It’s Tuesday, the second half of 5th period lunch. A short line has gathered in the East Café, a set of students waiting their turn in front of a temporary table setup.

Sophomore Nick Black and junior Nicole Neri are hard at work sorting at the Trashless Tuesday table. Photo courtesy Kim Wilson.

No, it’s not the cafeteria’s omelet bar, nor are the students buying food at all. Rather, the table is a feature of Trashless Tuesdays—a recycling and composting program in its first year—and the students are unloading their finished lunches to be sorted.

Senior plus Millie Martin, one of many special education students working on Trashless Tuesdays, said the project began last fall.

“We went to the zoo and [we] talked about raising money,” Martin said.

At the zoo summit, teacher Kim Wilson, who has led the project with her special education students, was inspired by the zoo’s environmentally friendly trash collection and compost program.

“It was called the Teen ECO Summit, and we were one of 14 schools in central Ohio chosen,” Wilson said. “They had a table setup where they were collecting all our trash and sorting it, and that sparked my interest.”

During the summit, Wilson and her students presented their proposal for Trashless Tuesdays to a panel of judges, winning $500 to buy two compost tumblers and begin the program at UAHS.

“[The zoo] had a bigger compost program than we’re able to run . . . so we’re doing a fraction of what they were doing, but we’re at least reducing the trash a little,” Wilson said.

Trashless Tuesdays occur once a week during lunch periods. Students are directed to place their leftovers on the table in the East Cafeteria where Wilson’s students take on the sorting process.

Freshmen Max Arnett and Aselya Keller, sophomore Nick Black and junior Nicole Neri pose in front of the compost tumbler purchased for the Trashless Tuesday program. Photo courtesy Kim Wilson.

“Any fruits and vegetables that kids throw away in the cafeteria, we’re putting into the compost,” Wilson said. “We don’t really have plans for where it’s going to go, but I’m assuming either the community school garden or some elementary school gardens.”

However, Wilson’s students sort more than organic material.

“We take anything that’s recyclable into the recycling—so bottles and cans,” Wilson said. “Pop tabs, we take and donate to the Ronald McDonald House [and] anything that’s clean cardboard, we take and put it in the recycling.”

The students are also collecting bottle lids in hope of creating an art installment reading ‘TRASHLESS,’ emptying recycling bins from classrooms and finding a use for styrofoam sorted from the cafeteria.

“The styrofoam trays that are clean, we’ve been collecting, and we’re trying to figure out how we can shred them to create packing for boxes. New Albany High School does it in their cafeteria, and they said UPS paid them for the styrofoam,” Wilson said.

A New Experience

However, Trashless Tuesdays haven’t been implemented without obstacles.

“The toughest thing is getting the students to bring us their trash,” Wilson said. “We’ve got our sorting down. We spent a lot of time learning what goes where, and my students aren’t afraid of the grossness of it, which is great. But a lot of people just want to throw it in the trash, and we have to say, ‘Leave it on the table.’ It’s a bit of a shift for some students.”

Next year, Wilson hopes to expand Trashless Tuesday into a permanent setup.

“My goal for next year would be to do it every day. We do vocational training as part of our program, so it’s basically job training for [the students] and science curriculum all built into one,” Wilson said.

Though Trashless Tuesday is a recent project, it’s one that both Wilson and her students are passionate about.

“My students love it. They’re doing a great job, they talk about it, and they take pride in that they’re doing something to make a difference,” Wilson said.

Senior plus Millie Martin said she’s excited about the program.

“I like composting the foods . . . I like recycling things to the trash,” Martin said. “My favorite part [is] recycling with pop tabs and cans.”

Junior Nicole Neri also helps with Trashless Tuesdays and believes that it has been an enjoyable learning process.

“We had to buy T-shirts, buy compost, [write] a letter to our parents… We learned how to compost,” Neri said. “I like composting; I like sorting out stuff.”