Whose job is it anyways? The flaws of the recycling process

Alicia Vargelis

As a member of Green Cities of California, Marin County and its schools are environmentally conscientious, and Redwood is certainly no exception. Redwood has bike to school days, multiple EZH20 bottle-filling stations, and increased use of technology instead of paper in classrooms. Despite this, many students and staff are unaware that Redwood’s recycling system has many flaws, as most items in recycling bins often end up in the trash with other waste.

“Pretty much everything except cardboard goes in the trash,” said custodian Pat Hazelrigg. “Bottles, cans, and all that stuff I just pour right into my trash.”  

Recycling, and sorting recyclable and non-recyclable items, is not in any Redwood custodian’s contract, according to the CSEA Bargaining Unit Agreement which is currently undergoing negotiation due to its term ending. Hazelrigg said he was told it was the student’s responsibility to take out the recycling, but few students clean out recycling bins.

“The recycling does get taken out, but by who, I don’t really know,” said senior Jenna Neustaetter, president of the Environmental Action Club. 

Cerf, Emily - recycling (1)
Opening a recycling bin, sophomores William Barber (left) and Parker Tang (right) throw recycling in the proper bin.

Many staff and students share the same question: who is responsible for monitoring and taking out recycling at Redwood?

Hazelrigg’s custodial route includes half of the first floor of Redwood, and due to the large number of classrooms he cleans, he doesn’t have time to sort through recycling bins that are often contaminated with waste. However, he does recycle cardboard because there is a designated location for it.

“I always take down the cardboard and recycle it,” Hazelrigg said. “The students are supposed to be doing [recycling] and I don’t have time to separate stuff. It’s just too big of a rally.”

AP Environmental Science teacher Joe Stewart also believes the contamination of recycling bins with regular trash is a key issue that Redwood’s recycling system faces.

“Marin Sanitary Service is not going to be able to accept contaminated recycling, so it ends up just being garbage or someone has to dig through it and clean it out, and no one wants to do that,” Stewart said.

Due to the fact that no one at Redwood is actively responsible for recycling, some teachers will have their teacher assistants take out the recycling.

“In my classroom we have a TA empty [the recycling], but sometimes just out of kindness, the custodians will do it,” Stewart said.

According to Hazelrigg, only two out of all the classrooms in his route have teachers who tell him to not take out the recycling because their TAs do it, but in the rest of the classrooms he disposes of the recycling by putting it in the trash. Hazelrigg initially ignored recycling because he was told that students would handle it. But over time the recycling piled up and it became clear that no one was taking it out.

“[The recycling] sat there and it sat there,” Hazelrigg said. “I don’t let stuff pile up. You go into my classrooms and they’re all clean; there’s no recycling [left over] whatsoever and everyday that happens.”   

The Environmental Action Club, founded in 2004, is currently focusing more on issues such as excessive paper towel usage and greener transportation to school and less on recycling reform at Redwood, according to Neustaetter.

“I don’t think we have a very powerful role [in recycling]. Members of the club encourage [recycling] from other students but we’re not making any strides currently to change anything about it,” Neustaetter said.

In the future, the club would like to bring back the large recycling bins that were removed from the CEA and outdoor areas due to lack of correct usage which cost the school too much money.

Stewart believes that Redwood’s inefficient recycling system comes from a lack of student awareness and care for being environmentally conscientious.

“It’s not so much the infrastructure being inadequate; we have recycling bins. It’s much more about the way we think about things,” Stewart said. “The truth is if we were doing our recycling well and there wasn’t contamination, if we had everything clearly labeled and people were following it, it would be as easy as taking the garbage out. It would be the same amount of stuff just sorted so I don’t think the custodians would have difficulty with that. I think they would be happy to do it.”  

State law AB-1826, which came into effect April 1, 2016, requires local jurisdictions to recycle their organic waste, and although Redwood has a recycling process, the ambiguity over who is responsible for recycling leads to limited success. Stewart said that he believes students, administration and custodial staff need to work together to improve Redwood’s recycling.

“Redwood is a high-achieving school and it is a well-run place, but I think it’s a travesty that we don’t have a well-run recycling program,” Stewart said. “I do not blame any particular party; we need to work together to make it happen.”