Does J-DHS Recycle?

By Meghan Byrnes and Morgan Brang

Managing Editor for Production and Assistant Editor

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Reduce, reuse, recycle. In this day and age, these three words are part of our everyday language. The question is: is Jamesville-DeWitt High School doing everything they can to put these ideas to use? Many students believe that the answer to this question is no.

According to Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA) representative Kristen Lawton, the school has the infrastructure to recycle but whether or not these resources are put to use is up to the students and staff at J-DHS. Blue bins are found all over the building but are not always used properly, or used at all by some students.

This is because there is a lot of uncertainty throughout the school on what happens to the items in recycling bins. Spanish teacher Maria Sahyoun assumes that if there are bins, something productive is being done with it. “I’m unsure of what happens to the recyclables after it leaves the room,” she said. Cieplicki is also unaware of what is done with the recyclables; “I don't watch the janitors in my free time.” Junior Nate Shapiro believes that the idea that our janitors are not recycling is all a myth. 

Turns out, Shapiro was right. After some investigative reporting, it was proven that the custodians at J-DHS do, in fact, recycle. There are two bins on the carts that the custodians have with them for taking care of trash and recyclables. The gray trash bin is where the recyclables go, and the trash goes in the front of the cart into a yellow container. When asked about instances such as trash being thrown into the recycling bins, custodian John Mclary said “we go through it the best we can.” However, the custodians are on a schedule and don’t have time to pick through the recycling bins all day. “It makes the job harder, that’s for sure,” added Mr. Mclary.

Although students don’t always actively recycle inside of school, they recognize the importance it has in our community. “I think recycling is very important because it’s important to preserve the environment for future generations,” said junior Haley Ripich. Shapiro agrees that it is important because without it there would be too much trash in our community. Junior Brian Cieplicki realizes that recycling is important but says “I expect other people to do it.” However, students like Cieplicki and junior Ben Vahey are more motivated to collect recyclables outside of school because they can return them for money.

If students know the importance of recycling and the school has the means to do it, what is keeping them from recycling in school? “In school I use whatever is closer to me, the garbage bin or the recycling bin,” said Cieplicki. Sophomore Emily Firman agrees, saying that there is often trash in the recycling bin, so to her there is no point in putting recyclable items in there. 

“I believe that everyone in the school does not use the recycling bins for what they are,” said Spanish teacher Simone Pacilio. Things like gum, tissues, paper towels, and other trash items are getting put into the recycling bins. “(Custodians) can’t make use of trash in the recycling bins, so if they see garbage vs. pure recycling, then it’s not good for them,” added Ms. Pacilio.

Ms. Pacilio says that in order to make things easier for the custodians, the school should have separate bins for paper and plastic recyclable materials. However, recycling specialist Theresa Mandery, from OCRRA, clears up some of the confusion about this, saying “our community doesn’t require that we separate the different recycled materials, so if you see things all going into one bin, that is correct. The paper and plastic can all go together.”

Vahey is very passionate about recycling and believes it to be extremely important. If Vahey spots a trash item in the blue bins he will pull it out and dispose of it correctly. “I always do the best I can to help save the environment,” said Vahey. Actions like this not only help the custodians in their ability to do their job, but in the end benefits the environment as well. Vahey even expanded his recycling efforts by bringing a recycling bin to the J-DHS Varsity football game. He continued on to checking the dumpsters behind the high school. “There’s a recycling and trash dumpster but there was tons of recyclables in the trash dumpster,” said Vahey. “It was not right,” he added. Vahey regularly contacts OCRRA representatives and constantly tries to improve the recycling situation at J-DHS.

Not only do people not want to put in the effort to recycle, but they aren’t sure of what gets recycled and what doesn’t. Despite all of their work towards gaining awareness and success as far as recycling goes, OCRRA has a saying for this confusion; “When in doubt, throw it out.” Ms. Mandery knows that it sounds a little counterintuitive for OCRRA to say this, but it is for a good reason. In Onondaga County, our trash goes to a separate location called the waste energy facility, where it is processed at very high temperatures and ultimately turned into electricity. However, this is not the case in every county. 
Therefore, if trash is put in the recycling bin and the company that sees this sends the trash to a county other than Onondaga, it might just be put into a landfill. “We would rather see garbage going to the waste energy facility and being utilized in a second life situation or turned into electricity instead of going to a landfill in a different community,” said Ms. Mandery. So, if something is recyclable, but thrown in the garbage, it is still being put to use as energy. 

The first step in improving the recycling process at J-DHS is to bring awareness to both students and staff. Some of Ms. Lawton’s and Ms. Mandery’s suggestions include using different color bags for trash bins and recycling bins. Also, putting the two bins next to each other, if they aren’t already, will eliminate the excuse that the recycling bins are too far away. So does J-DHS recycle? It’s all up to us, the students and staff.