CHS students investigate school’s waste stream eying improvement
By Jason StarrThe Colchester Sun
Squeezing black liquid of questionable origin out of a plastic bag, decoupling used cafeteria food from its container, collecting bottle caps off partially finished beverages … It takes serious student commitment to provoke change in the way a school manages its trash.
That commitment was on display Tuesday in the Colchester High School gymnasium. A group of students working to improve student recycling and institute a composting program spent much of the day deep in trash, picking and sorting until each category of refuse could be weighed. The data will quantify how much recyclables and compostables are ending up in the school’s trashcans and begin the process of shifting student behavior to improve the school’s waste stream.
This is “authentic learning” says Melanie Laquerre, CHS food and health teacher who oversaw the event. It was two of Laquerre’s students — Allison Pilcher and Sophia Simkins — who initiated the investigation into the school’s trash management last year. Now juniors, the students met with the Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) this fall to discuss ways to make improvements. The idea of dumping out and sorting the school’s trash, something CSWD facilitates at other schools in its district and last did at CHS in 2009, was seized.
“We really wanted to improve the way waste is being managed,” Pilcher said. “We want to recycle everything we can, and we want to implement a composting program.”
Pilcher and Simkins’ efforts have already led to improvements. Last year, recycling bins around the school were being thrown out with the trash by custodial staff, they said.
“That has been fixed,” Pilcher said.
Now the goal is to increase use of the bins. Coming away from Tuesday’s sort with a quantity of recyclable material being thrown away will be a primary tool in communicating how much room there is for improvement.
“This is student-driven,” sad Laquerre. “Their voices are being heard. They are advocating and trying to create change in their own way.”
Data from the 2009 trash sort is still available through the school’s environmental science department, Laquerre said. Students planned to compare results from this year’s sort to those from four years ago. They also plan to hold a trash sort event next year to measure improvement.
Since the 2009 trash sort, small changes have been implemented, according to Laquerre, such as an increased number of recycling bins available throughout the school. But the bins aren’t being used as effectively as possible, Pilcher said. For example, the recycling bins in the cafeteria have small openings specific to certain kinds of bottles. Recyclables that don’t fit get thrown in the trash, she said.
The students also discovered Tuesday that there are an inordinate number of trash cans in the building. Trash sorters reduced the waste from approximately 20 cans into three bags of trash on Tuesday. The ubiquity of trash cans makes it easy for students to throw away recyclables, Pilcher said.
The students plan to create sort stations in the cafeteria with information about where to throw particular items.