How Westfield’s recycling program ended and the plans to bring it back
May 23, 2022
A student places a piece of notebook paper covered in scribbled notes in a recycling bin in a classroom. In the student’s mind, the paper then goes to a processing plant and begins a new life as a recycled material. In actuality, the blue recycling bins across the school are no different than the trash cans, and the contents of both bins are placed in the same dumpster. However, this reality is one that the environmental club is working to change.
Westfield High School used to have recycling that was collected by the same company in charge of trash collection. Life skills classes would go around the building and collect recycling from classrooms. Students would ensure everything was sorted so that recyclables could be sent off to a plant. When the teacher in charge of the program passed, it was left without a leader. Around the same time, the company in charge of processing the recycling received a new system for sorting that did not include bags, making the school’s collection difficult to continue.
“In recycling [collection companies] won’t take it if it’s in a bag, so we use [the blue bins] now with bags and that’s just a definite sign that we’re not recycling with them,” Environmental Club sponsor Miss Gabby O’Neal said.
The Environmental Club has investigated the recycling issue throughout the last year and is now working on bringing the process back. They have brought the issue to the food services and facilities departments in the high school, and are currently in the process of adding recycling to the budget and figuring out where money could come from. However, there is also the question of who will pick it up, and which schools in the district will participate in the recycling program.
“In order to do recycling now you have to set up a separate kind of service to come pick it up,” O’Neal said, “it hasn’t been done for a couple of years and the teacher who originally ran it passed away there’s the question of who’s actually going to come around and collect it from room to room.”
Another obstacle in bringing recycling to the high school is misconceptions surrounding what can and can’t be recycled. The recycling logo appears on many products identifying what kind of plastic it is but it doesn’t mean that it is able to be recycled. Plastic and food containers often get tossed in recycling as well. As soon as one of these blunders is made the entire recycling bin is contaminated.
“We would definitely need to get the word out to students about what is supposed to go in those bins. There's a lot of educational components to what can and cannot be recycled,” O’Neal stated. “ It’s just a matter of making it very easy for students, there will definitely be some trial and error in that process. It is definitely a thing I think we can accomplish eventually.”
The town of Westfield has recycling and is seeking to improve participation. Ray’s Trash Service, the city’s recycling provider, states city participation is at roughly 75%. However, they believe growing their program to 100% is something that is realistically achievable.
While Westfield’s return to recycling has only just begun, its future holds a hopeful start to a more sustainable school and eco-friendly education. There are many details and logistics to work out before the end goal is met, but the environmental club is determined to continue the process and see through its goals.
“I think that in the years to come it’s definitely important for students of all ages when they’re in school to learn good habits so that way it becomes like second nature going forward,” O’Neal said, “that just helps keep our planet a cleaner place, a more sustainable place, a more friendly place for future generations.”