A Deep Dive into Recycling Bins
By Daniel Krieger
Your teacher hands you back your test, and you look in dismay at the bad test grade. You toss it in the recycling bin to avoid ever seeing it again. Perhaps to console yourself, you buy a bag of Doritos from the school store. Once finished, you decide to recycle the empty bag too, feeling proud of yourself for at least doing something good.
But recycling those items may have done more harm than good.
Williamsville East High School seemingly does a good job of providing the means for being a green citizen. Every class is equipped with a small blue box meant for recyclables, and there is a larger one in the Commons. This is very helpful.
At the recent Homecoming Dance, hundreds of tiny plastic cups of water were served to the tired students. There was no place inside the gym for the cups to be recycled. Multiple yellow trash cans were overflowing with them, and tables were cluttered with the abandoned plastic cups.
It was estimated by one of the people serving water that over 1000 plastic cups were served that night.
There was a recycling bin nearby, in the hallway outside, but this was already partially full before the dance began. In addition, being outside of the gym, it was not readily accessible for use by the students attending.
There are other issues at hand in the recycling problem at East. Not everyone knows what can and cannot be recycled. Things like plastic bags – this includes snack bags you might purchase from the school store – cannot be recycled, and can actually cause problems for recycling machines.
According to a 2015 WBFO article, plastic bags and shredded paper damage the separation machines used. It can cause them to be shut down, stopping all recycling until the machines are fixed. This greatly reduces efficiency and profit for recycling plants.
These items that are commonly misconceived as recyclable are not the only thing that cause problems for recyclers.
WBFO cited Sims Municipal Recycling, which is forced to shut down multiple times every week because of people who don’t properly clean their items before tossing them in the recycling bin. Things like yogurt on lids, grease on pizza boxes, or other food items stuck to normally recyclable objects leave recycling plants disgusting and dysfunctional. All the gunk from things recycled with food causes plants to shut down for an entire day to clean everything so the machines will work properly.
Other things with recycling are changing. Paper is a commonly recycled material. Many students upon the end of the school year dump all their notes, an entire year of work, right into the recycling bins. Surprisingly, however, not all recycling plants are equipped to handle paper, according to WBFO.
The reason for this is that recycling is not just about doing good for the environment. It is also about making money. The recycling of metals such as aluminum and copper is very lucrative, as they can sell for thousands of dollars per ton. But other things that do not produce much money after being recycled are often times just thrown away by recycling plants.
Things like styrofoam are very easily recycled, but are often not because the product makes little profit. This is why East’s cafeteria has stopped using foam trays and has instead moved to using paper ones. Similarly, glass and cotton clothing are getting recycled less and less for the same reasons.
Some students may remember that East used to have the big and colorful plastic reusable trays for lunches. The school has since stopped using these because students would throw them out with their food.
Paper is a real issue at East. Even though there is an increase in availability of Chromebooks for student use, most teachers still primarily use paper in the classroom. Last year, around four million copies were printed in the IMC printer. That conservatively averages to around 22,000 copies per day in a 180 day school year. All of that was likely thrown out or recycled.
The school district could try and fix this by providing more chromebooks for students. The middle schools already have a 1-1 system with the students and chromebooks, and this could be a viable solution.
It is important to remember, that “recycle” is only the third part of the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” While recycling is much better for the environment than throwing everything out, it is recommended that people try and reduce their usage of plastic materials, and reuse as much as they can.