Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Status of Recycling in Princeton High School

The photo below speaks volumes about recycling, or lack thereof, at Princeton High School. I'm a fan of the school. It's been a good place for my daughters. Most of the teachers are excellent. But there's an opportunity being wasted when it comes to teaching kids basic citizenship skills for living on the planet. There was a time when Princeton's public schools, with the exception of Riverside Elementary, were recycling in name only. Based on my conversations with the truck drivers who pick up recyclables, many schools in NJ were and probably still are in a similar state. Almost ten years ago, I worked with facilities staff, teachers and custodians to develop a protocol to improve recycling in Princeton's public schools. We got the elementary schools recycling again, but JW Middleschool and PHS proved much harder, since students don't spend all day in a single classroom. It seemed to me that the administrators had made recycling a very low priority. There was no signal coming from the top that recycling matters. Recycling only works if everyone--students, teachers, custodians and other staff--do their part. Only if there's a clear and ongoing signal coming from the top will the system work.

My point, which didn't seem to sink in at the time, was that school is the place to develop lifelong habits, and any effort to engrain recycling habits would have lasting benefits. Each student's participation matters, since contamination of recyclables with trash can mean the whole bag ends up in the trash dumpster out back.

This year, a teacher and some students made a visual statement about the state of recycling at PHS. In the cage on the left are all the containers thrown out in an average week. A much smaller portion, on the right, actually get recycled.

The school has decent receptacles--contrasting in shape, color and opening, and paired so that students don't have to walk extra distance to reach the right receptacle. But that's clearly not enough.

One aspect of recycling is that you can tell how a building is doing simply by checking the ratio of recycling and trash dumpsters. In the back of the school, the ratio is 1:3. Not exactly great.

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