Monday, June 09, 2008

Recycling in Princeton District Schools--An Update

The schoolyear-long effort to get recycling going again in district schools can finally claim some success. Some schools, like Riverside and LittleBrook Elementary, quickly embraced recycling last fall and made it a part of everyday activity, as students learned to take recyclables to a centrally located bin that is then rolled out to the loading dock by the custodians. Recycle bins, paired with trash cans, are even showing up at special events like school picnics. In other schools, the throwaway culture has been harder to change, but persistent prompting has had an effect.

It can now be said that all schools are recycling. There are still incidents of contamination (e.g. eight big, thick plastic trash bags in a bin at the high school meant for bottles and cans), but both quantity and quality have continued to grow at the high school and Community Park Elementary--two schools that were having difficulty getting recycling going. The middle school had a dip in participation, but then rebounded.

A truck driver who picks up recyclables echoed my observations, and also suggested there are ways that the district schools could save a lot of money on waste disposal if they chose to, with consistent recycling being one of those means. One estimate I heard from the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection is that a school district the size of Princeton's could save $10,000/year through comprehensive recycling.

We can celebrate the progress, while recognizing that there is still nothing built into the school system's modus operandi to insure that recycling will not backslide. No one in-house is checking the bins to monitor participation and quality. It is all too easy to imagine recycling falling apart without anyone in the administration or in building management knowing. The schools could easily return to the situation nine months ago, when some administrators thought schools were recycling when in fact they were not.

Still, the movement is very much in the right direction. Teachers and students and some custodians have shown strong interest and made the effort. If the school district as a whole sees it as in its fiscal and educational interest to make recycling a higher priority, the gains of the past year can be built upon.

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