Columnist tackles misconceptions and rumors surrounding the way UAHS deals with its recycling.


As the world opens its eyes to the extent of human impact on the environment, students look towards sustainable solutions to quell their anxieties and fears about climate change, pollution and general environmental destruction. One such solution seems obvious. A staple of the three “Rs,” recycling is a practice that is assumed to be easy, tenable and accessible. However, the common understanding among the UAHS community contains apprehension surrounding the integrity of the practice, including skepticism about the worth of recycling at all.

Last April, the UAHS Environmental club purchased seven blue recycling bins to be placed evenly throughout areas where students eat lunch. After seeing discrepancies in the way recycling was being handled, members wanted to improve a situation they thought should already have been taken care of.

Senior Liam Martin explains the process.

“We start up in the mezzanine where study hall is, and we go around to the four recycling bins there. [We] take the bag out with the [recyclables], we sift through it, take out any non-recyclables or stuff with liquid still in them, then we empty the liquids in the pail and then we re-bag the recycling bin. [Then] we go downstairs and do the exact same for the three that are down there,” he said. 

Members typically find a scene in which more trash is placed in the recycling than actual recyclables.

“I would probably say the most frustrating is just opening a bag that’s supposed to be recyclables and just seeing someone’s half eaten lunch, because one, we have to go through that and [it’s disgusting], and second of all, [that] just disregards the point of those bins, like why we put them out there,” senior Emma Coppola said. Both Martin and Coppola would like to see improvements made in the future, both with how the system works and how students cooperate with the program. 

“We are all affected by the environment we all share [and] just because you might think, ‘Oh [it’s] just a bottle, it’s not a big deal’, but [that could] really add up. It is a big deal because it affects so many things. It’s just good to keep in mind, and it’s something easy that you can do, it’s a daily mindset and [doesn’t take long],” Coppola said.

With a student-led system in place for now, the question still remains about where misunderstandings between recycling and what students believe it to have originated from. An understanding of how UAHS has handled recycling in the past is needed in order to understand the negative rumors surrounding the practice. Transitioning between old and new buildings posed changes to waste management, as well as an uptick in the amount of waste generated per day. Scott Moon, a member of the custodial staff, describes some of the differences and inevitable frustrations about recycling and the way it has been dealt with.

“When we got here, of course, we got more dumpsters. [At] the old school, we used to have a compactor. …And then, we transitioned from crushing the boxes down for recycling to actually putting trash in there, crushing the trash down. [Then] we came here [and] now we have three regular trash dumpsters and a recycling dumpster,” Moon said. In the new building, the biggest challenge comes from a lack of understanding among students about how and what to recycle.

“I think the biggest issue that I see for recycling, is you have [people] that want to do it, right? But everybody doesn’t want to do it. So then what you have is, you have your recycling bins out, but instead of putting recycling in them, they’re putting trash in them. [Then] you end up getting fined when it goes to the recycling dump.” 

More than just frustrations with students, Moon also said that he has noticed a lack of effort on the part of the administration when dealing with recycling, which is why it has not been as efficient as it should have been in the past.

“It’s almost like, I feel that when it comes to recycling, it almost seems like, they’ve put [it] off on a different organization. Like whoever wants to tackle it,” he said.

One of the more commonly circulated rumors about recycling at UAHS, is that despite the appearance of recycling bins, all recycled waste gets thrown in the trash. Moon explained that there is merit to this rumor. However, it is important to note that it was not done on lack of a place to recycle, but rather an absence of active initiative to collect it; an absence that custodians were not tasked with to make up for. 

“[It] was a situation where we were told that this group would handle it. (Whatever school organization decided to take it.) So, when that didn’t happen, the custodians were like, ‘okay, we only have like one, recycling can, so we’re going to put all that stuff in the trash, we just throw it away.’ Because their whole thing is, if you don’t want to recycle, you’re not going to do it, then we’re not going to do it,” Moon said. 

To be clear, UAHS has both the capacity and space to recycle, and not everything gets thrown in a dumpster “out back,” as some have been led to understand. But this capacity does not guarantee a clean system. Currently, the container labeled recycling gets picked up by a dump truck and taken to a facility where it is sorted and cleaned. Meanwhile, the only places available to students to recycle are in the common areas and Golden Bear Boulevard. 

“So basically you have the trash cans, and you have the blue recycling bins. And then the kids decide what they’re going to put and where, and most of them, 90% of them, [just] throw their trash [and recycling] in the trash can, and that’s just it. So, I think, if you look at that you would say, ‘Oh they don’t recycle,’” Moon said. 

“I don’t think we were consistent in any way last year. The containers were all different and the signage of what could be recycled was not clear,” Chris Potts, chief operating officer of the district, said. 

He explained that even though there were inconsistencies, steps have been made to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of recycling, a major difference between current and past initiatives.

“The big difference in working with our hauler is getting them to change all signage across the district on containers so they are all consistent and clear on what can be recycled. The past said cardboard only, and that is not the case. We are single stream recycling and can recycle many more things. We are also changing out containers so they have side loading capabilities. They do not have that now. This will make it easier for our custodians and students who are helping to unload recyclables,” Potts said. 

The district is planning to partner with the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO), in order to implement a consistent recycling program across all levels of school, one that can also be sustained throughout the coming years. 

“We are trying to create a consistent program that can be learned from pre-school on. The same signage, the same containers, the same process so it becomes part of the daily routine no matter what grade level of school,” Potts said.

In terms of rumors, Potts said he couldn’t speak to past perceptions, but “the goal is to improve our recycling habits across the district and to make sure everyone is working together to achieve this.” 

Regardless of future or past plans, one common theme can be drawn from this example of sustainability in schools: unless collective action is taken towards making a change, very little will actually happen.

“If they can see the change, then they’re more willing to make the change. And I think that’s where the disconnect is, because some kids just don’t care, and some kids care a lot, but the ones that care a lot, are way outnumbered,” Moon said. “So until that number evens out, you’re going to keep having the same frustrations all the time.”