Editorial: It’s time to clean up


Caroline Judd

Our school has not been able to recycle properly due to excess trash in the recycling bins.

The cafeteria during sixth hour, now absent of laughter and warmth, is completely still at first glance. A second look reveals custodian Sean Smith continuing his daily agenda of shuffling through bins–blue, yellow and gray–making a thorough effort to separate the bits of trash which have been so carelessly tossed in the recycling bins. If trash is found in the recycling, the school will be fined, sometimes leaving custodians with no choice other than to throw the recycling-trash mixture out as trash.

We, as students, neglect the importance, tedious care and dedication that goes into keeping our school sanitary and polished day after day. 

“My day starts out with unlocking the building. Then, it goes to clean up the restrooms so everybody can have one,” custodian Sean Smith said. “It’s not a fresh start. You go ahead and you get ready to set up what needs to be set up. But what happens when you start getting coffee spills? What happens if somebody left a spill that nobody cleaned up the night before? Or, somebody might need help delivering something right way. Everyday is not the same, but I’m by myself until 10:30. That’s when the mid-shift guy gets here. So every call you’ve got from six in the morning to 10:30 is me.” 

Students’ careless waste management coupled with the understaffing of custodians and increased building renting to result in a minor environmental disaster: cafeteria recycling being taken out with the trash.

“Technically, we don’t have to [sort through trash],” Smith said. “But it’s because they’re not following the example of what we would like. The yellow trash bins are for anything that contains food. The blue trash cans are for your recycling. The grey trash cans are for trash. I feel as though if you take the time to explain that on the first day of school of orientations, when everybody comes and talks to them, explain to them exactly how this goes. You might have to follow up maybe a whole week, during lunches, just so they can get [into] the habit of it. Other than that, that’s how we do it. We sort it so [that] one, it helps the trash from overflowing. Two, it helps with the mulch and compost. It’s always a team effort, so technically we don’t have to dig through the trash, but we do.”

Outside groups renting out our building after school and over the weekends is one cause of the issue. As the number of outside groups renting the building after hours increases the custodial responsibility of setting up for these organization is utilized more and more often. Having to place 300 chairs in neat, orderly rows or breaking down 40 cafeteria tables takes valuable time out of the custodians’ already overloaded work schedules. 

“If you’re not prone to working hard like I am, then when they are short staffed you’re just gonna wanna go home, but see I’m here after work,” Smith said. “Most of the time I’m overtime. One time I did 32 hours overtime. They take it out of tax, made me cry. But they needed me. Over the weekend for the craft fair I did 22 hours overtime for Saturday and Sunday because they needed me.” 

For the past few years, national unemployment rates have been relatively low; building manager Kitty Strong believes that this may contribute to why the custodial staff, bus drivers and cafeteria workers are understaffed. Currently, there are only eleven employed custodians out of the twelve necessary to keep the building functional. 

“One custodian last year was let go, probably around this time, and she has never been replaced; every night we are short one custodian, which means the other custodians have to pick up the slack for that custodian. So the area that that custodian would clean is being cleaned by all the other custodians, each of them getting a part of that,” Strong said. “On top of doing their job or their area that they do, they’re having to do part of someone else’s area––and that doesn’t include setting up the gym for sports, setting up the library for meetings at night, things like that. If there’s an event in the cafeteria that might have food, they have to go back there again and clean up the cafeteria.”

While unemployment advances the problem, the issue would be impacted mostly if students were simply more conscious about how their actions impact others and their environment.

“It’s hard, and I can see sometimes Sean will be picking out certain trash out of say, recycling, and putting it into the compost. No one is putting [their waste] in the right containers, and we do have new signs and posters. I just hung them up myself in the cafeteria and in the breezeway, so it’s hard when you can’t still get everyone on the same page: to recycle,” Strong said. “[The custodians] are actually picking through the trash and moving some of it over, so I think it has to be whole community effort, and if everybody’s not on board, it only makes it harder.”

While other factors such as underemployment and increased building use do have an effect, the root of the problem is negligence towards the importance of disposing of waste correctly on the daily, and it will take a community effort to fix it.