Implementation of Recycling at Garrison Middle School—Walla Walla, WA
After spending several years working at Garrison Middle School in Walla Walla, WA I noticed the lack of a paper recycling system. Growing up in the Seattle area and attending a rather forward thinking elementary school, I was used to always having a recycling option. The students in my math classes wasted extreme amounts of paper; sometimes they would write one sentence and then, deciding they did not need the paper anymore, discard it in the waste basket. For the last couple weeks of fall semester 2005 I placed cardboard boxes in the two classrooms I worked frequently in and would empty them at my house. At this point I was under the impression that perhaps the entire district did not have recycling available. After speaking with friends (among them Jay Heath, who attempted to tackle this issue last semester) it was evident that many schools did indeed have in-classroom recycling. Once I signed up for the environmental studies internship I decided I would like to devote a more significant portion of time to investigating the issue of why Garrison did not have recycling and attempt to get the program started.
After speaking with Kristen Harvey, my project sponsor and math teacher at Garrison, she informed me that in fact Garrison used to have a recycling program. She had a group of students in the Ecology Club that would collect recyclables and take them to the Walla Walla recycling plant and receive money back. However, the recycling plant stopped taking paper and so they quite their program. When I inquired with Kristen about the possibility of starting up a recycling program again she was whole-heartedly for the idea. As a Whitman Alum, I believe she is somewhat environmentally conscience and a good person to have on my side. I explained to her my potential internship project and what I hoped to accomplish. When I first began my goals were:
• To investigate the existence or extent of current recycling at Garrison.
• To determine if there was widespread interest in recycling in-classroom.
• To install some sort of collection facilities at Garrison.
• To organize pickup of the recycling and transport to the recycling plant.
• To alert staff to the new option of recycling in classroom.
After a few weeks of talking to various people and exchanging emails, most of these goals were met. It turned out there was a strong interest in returning recycling to Garrison and so help from staff members was readily available. One of the first things I did was look around on the Walla Walla School District’s website. Interestingly enough, they have information posted directly on their facilities support page about the extent of recycling in the district. The website (http://resources.wwps.org/facilitysupport/Recycling.htm) included graphs stating a month by month run-down of how much paper and cardboard was recycled by schools in the district. This sparked my interest, especially of why there was no prevalent recycling at Garrison. I put a call into the facilities support office and waited for quite a while until I was actually able to speak with someone. It seemed they were always “out of the office” when I was able to call. Eventually I spoke with Britt who was enthusiastic about my undertaking of getting widespread recycling at Garrison. She informed me that, in fact, they did already have a recycling pickup at Garrison. Currently they were mostly collecting cardboard in a large container out back. At this time I inquired about prices of the small blue paper recycling bins you see everywhere around Whitman campus. She sent me a data sheet with prices for all sorts of recycling bins. The price for the small ones is $4.77 per bin when you bought less than 72, and the price drops to $4.66 when you purchased more. A green box (like the ones you put in front of your house) is $8.82 and the largest garbage-can size recycling containers are $17.49 a piece. At this point I considered writing a proposal to the principal to possibly free up some funds for the purchase of these bins. Around this same time I received word from Kristen Harvey who said she had recently noticed a large blue bin out back of the school. It turns out this bin has always been there and was a recycled paper receptacle. Unfortunately, no one had been using it and most of the staff was relatively unaware of its existence. It seems that what I anticipated as being the most difficult part (getting a large bin and a district pickup) was already in place. Now I needed to organize some sort of group to place bins in classrooms and pick them up periodically.
I spoke with Kristen about this matter and she promptly sent a staff wide email asking if there were any groups of students or classes that would like to undertake the project. Ginger Calvario (the administrative assistant) promptly replied and indicated that she in fact had several “bored” office TAs with nothing better to do. She would love to put them to work collecting recycling she said. This proved to the perfect situation. All the other options I had considered (honor society members, perhaps certain science classes) were relatively impermanent positions: honor society members change (and apparently membership is saturated with 8th grade students) as well as science classrooms (who might not be able to consistently donate the time). Ginger will always have office TAs in the years to come and I’m sure they will be equally as “bored.” With Ginger coordinating this side of the effort she can make sure it runs smoothly year after year (hopefully).
Currently, we have bins in place in several classrooms (numbers increase daily as new boxes are found). We are using used cardboard boxes collected form various locations around campus including old paper-ream boxes, food service boxes, and other random locations. The locations of these boxes are based primarily on teacher interest (which has been very high) and also focused in math classrooms (who produce the most paper). Teacher response has been great; Teresa Mobley, a seventh grade language arts teacher, wanted to make sure she was included in the program. She said in an email, “I was just wanting to be sure I was ‘on the route’ for pickup. Thank you so much for taking on this project. I have felt like I should be recycling but kind of needed this push. I hope to clean out files soon and I'm sure I'll find lots of stuff I no longer want or need.” Other teachers expressed similar sentiments: they felt a moral obligation to recycle they simply needed to push and infrastructure in place before they would. With the expansion of the paper recycling came the relatively quick filling up of the large collection bin behind the building; I had also noticed the bin was in rather sore shape. I put another call in to Britt at facilities support to inquire about the possibility of a pickup or getting more bins. She informed me that the recycling was picked up weekly depending on the schedule of the delivery man (who is also the recycling man). She said that the head custodial need only put in a work-order requesting pickup (if the bin is full) and usually Jerry will be able to fulfill the order within a day or two. When I asked about the possibility of obtaining one or two more recycling bins she replied that she would put in a work order to have someone asses the possibility: I was not hopeful. However, within a week the one decrepit bin had been replaced by three new ones! As word spreads within the faculty and more boxes become available the program will certainly expand.
There were several things I could have done differently or better for this internship. Although the cardboard boxes work better on several levels (by reusing and saving money) the permanence, visibility, and aesthetic of the blue bins is unmatched. They would have been nice to get but almost purely out of my own desire. Next, initially I sort of envisioned a large advertising campaign for the new recycling program and perhaps a launch coincident with Earth Day. However, the fact that the recycling program is growing gradually caused this option to be rather inefficient; I think it would be rather silly to spend so much time advertising when the recycling is still only available in fraction of the classrooms. However, I do encourage the teachers to advertise the option in their classrooms and I have seen a very positive reaction to this from the students. Possibly the major contributing factor to all of these is the timing of the issue. The fact that I actively tutor at Garrison in the afternoons and have class in the morning precluded me from being able to get a hold of anyone from the district for quite a while. If I had managed to get an earlier start I could have possibly written a proposal to the school to get the bins, organized something with the school’s broadcast news system or perhaps simply posters across campus.
Although I may have not have personally benefited much from this project,
I am still proud of it. The fact that paper recycling is now an option in many
classrooms at Garrison is a giant leap forward from where it was two months
ago. And by increasing the number of large pickup bins at the back we’re
already set up to expand the program to school-wide. Although recycling is only
a small part of environmental awareness (reduce and reuse are very important
as well) it is something. I think (especially when dealing with school districts)
these things occur in baby steps. Any future projects in this area might address
the advertisement of recycling and furthering the extent of services (perhaps
not restricted to simply paper, like getting one or two large bins in the lunch
room). If I had any advice for students attempting a similar project it would
be to a) start early, and b) research your allies first. There are many, many
people who would love to increase environmental consciousness but you might
not know until you ask them. Faculty and staff members of similar institutions
have the best idea of where to go, whom to talk to, and how to accomplish your