By Southern MN YES! Coordinator Michelle Isaacson
On Monday, January 23th, 2017, five students, their coach, Assistant Principal, and District Buildings and Grounds Supervisor from the Forest Lake YES! team came together at the Forest Lake High School to have a discussion on current recycling practices and expansion potential in their school, along with a presentation regarding the impact recycling has on climate change.
The day started out with an in-depth discussion with Dan Schoepke, Senior Environmental Specialist from Washington County, Bill Schwartz, District Buildings and Grounds Supervisor, and later Forest Lake High School Assistant Principal Justin Sawyer to discuss the potential of implementing reusable silverware in the cafeteria instead of their current disposable system. Bill voiced his concerns of this project with issues such as silverware thrown in the trash, an increase in the need for custodial staff time, and an extra cost for cleaning and supplies.
The discussion also morphed into questions regarding what to do with food waste, if there is potential for recycling bins in the cafeteria and what expanding their standing recycling routine would entail. Dan talked about his experience with Food to Hogs and composting programs. The Forest Lake High School has a small version of a Food to Hogs program but at this time there are multiple issues with it including pickup delays due to school construction and limited storage space. Dan says he is very willing to help the team however he can, including providing funding for certain projects. Regarding non-food recycling, the school already has a co-mingle bin but the YES! team wants more. The school is charged a 52% tax on trash while there is no such tax on recycling. If the team can reduce the amount of recyclables that end up in the trash, they can save the school a lot of money over time. Participants brainstormed ways to make recycling expansion a reality including a centralized location where classrooms take care of their own recycling as a way to hold all students and faculty accountable for their waste. Another option would be to work with their special education department to expand their current two days a week recycling pickup. The need for further recycling efforts was justified as the next presenter educated the students on the large-scale impact recycling has on our planet.
Jenna Totz, Education Coordinator at Climate Generation, began her presentation with a question; how can recycling fight climate change? Participants came up with many good answers including it reduces one’s carbon footprint, if not recycled, items will end up in a landfill or burned, and it allows for the material to be reused instead of having to extract raw materials again. Jenna went on to show indicators of a warming world and the consequences that come with this climate issue. If you have allergies or dislike mosquitoes, you are out of luck because with a warming world comes longer ragweed and mosquito seasons. This led into staggering facts about how much waste humans make and how much actually gets recycled, such as in the United State we have 5% of the world’s population but create 40% of the world’s waste, and out of the 3.4 million tons of e-waste that is produced each year, only 27% of it gets recycled. This means more raw materials need to be extracted to accommodate a growing demand. Ending on an optimistic note, Jenna concluded her presentation with solutions to reduce climate change, moving toward solving our climate change problem. Planting trees, buying local food, biking, walking, driving less, choosing renewable energy, and writing to elected officials and business were all recommendations to reduce our negative impact on our planet.
Using information gained from the discussion and presentation, the YES! team launched into their project planning portion of the day. Resulting from the discussion, the team decided that pursuing reusable silverware in the cafeteria was not feasible at this time and will put effort toward other projects instead. The group really wants to have better recycling in their school so they researched what it would cost to add recycling bins to their cafeteria and more of their classrooms. Conversations will continue to improve their system of recyclable pickup. They also examined the idea of having a week long celebration in honor of Earth Day to kick off their recycling education. Since it was concluded that proper recycling education was lacking in their school, the team will be putting together a video with helpful information to be shown during their advisory time. The hope is to get their entire school community on board for these crucial environmental improvements.