Down in the dumps

Students dive into West's waste issue


Debra Klevens

Junior Milan Malhotra sorts through the trash that had been thrown in the recycling bin.

To the majority of the world, trash is nothing but trash. But for 10 students on the day of Oct. 16, piles of garbage promised a chance for school-wide change.

The Thursday trash audit, organized by Community Outreach at West (COW) and led by Parkway’s Sustainability and Purchasing Manager Erik Lueders, had students digging through bags of trash, compost and recycling alike to bring light to the waste issue in a way that would be more interesting to students.

“West High has continued to have issues with composting since the program was implemented over a year ago,” Lueders said, “[and] is the only school that is receiving an audit at this time. Most schools in Parkway have had a large degree of success with composting and therefore haven’t necessarily required an audit.”

The audit itself consisted of three parts that were divided among the school’s three divisions of waste: trash, recycling and compost.

For the first part, student volunteers took a look through the first lunch’s composting bins, but found that they had more than just compost inside; trash and recycling had been thrown into it as well.

“We put on these huge marshmallow-like suits and then we sorted through what [in the bins] we could compost, what we could recycle and what we could throw away,” junior Audrey Frost said.

The majority of the bin’s weight was not compost; 80 percent of what was in the compost bin should have either been recycled or thrown away. Part two meant students would do the same with the school’s recycling, and results did not get much better. Over half of what was in the recycling bins could not actually be recycled.

Part three finished off the audit with a look through the school’s trash. Sixty-seven percent of what had been thrown away without a second thought could have been composted instead.

“The best reaction was the students jaw dropping realization of how much stuff is in fact recyclable and compostable compared to just the small amount that can’t be,” Lueders said.

The program’s angle towards students has prompted students’ awareness of the need to sort out their garbage.

“Now, I tell my friends to sort everything and put compost in compost, recycling in recycling, and trash in trash,” Frost said. “I learned to take a moment to stop and look at our environment; let’s recycle what we can.”

During the Waste Audit, students were videotaped and interviewed in an effort to show students how they can help recycle and compost more effectively.  During Common Ground, Wednesday, Oct 29 students watched the video and participated in a class carbon footprint audit.

“Simple actions like recycling and composting have a massive positive impact on the planet.  It’s my hope that students will realize this and take ownership to improve,” Lueders said.

A video of the waste audit, shown during Wednesday’s common ground, is available here.