How should we be managing our waste?

By Chloe Olaizola, Staff Writer

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a single American produces 4.9 pounds of municipal solid waste (MSW) daily. America is the globe’s largest producer of MSW per capita. 75% of this waste is recyclable, but only 30% is recycled. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) mirrors this national trend, with only 22% of waste being recycled. The reality is that our trash pollutes oceans, lands, and foreign countries. Considering this and the threat of climate change, it’s only logical to recycle and dispose of waste properly. However, we as a school fail to do so. Community-based efforts can inspire personal and systemic change, and Payton should apply this idea to its waste management program. As a unified community with ample resources, we should rethink how we process waste and the type of waste we use as a school. 

Frankly, Payton’s recycling system requires significant reform. Although some classrooms have recycling bins, areas with large quantities of waste lack these resources. Notably, the Atrium lacks easy access to recycling bins; the trash can overflows with plastic and paper every lunch period. Besides that, the school groups recyclable materials into a single category. While this complies with minimum standards, it is also idealistic and detrimental. Recycling is a complex process that separates materials such as paper, metals, and plastics. Some organizations cannot recycle certain materials, such as glass, and none can recycle stained objects. Thus, grouping waste together will only lead to confusion and potential contamination. To prevent this, we should institute sorting stations —basically, different types of trash bins. Each should be labeled for a specific substance – for instance, paper-only and plastic-only bins. Each trash bin would be identifiable by color and sign to ease the process. I can personally vouch for this strategy: it was successfully in place at my previous school. Although these suggestions sound simplistic, they could have a substantial impact on our environmental footprint –if executed properly. 

Transitioning from plastic to eco-friendly foodware has economic and environmental benefits. Although there are concerns about on-campus water and electrical usage, these misconceptions are unfounded. When two American public schools switched to reusable utensils and bowls, they experienced a “44% reduction in life cycle greenhouse gasses and similar reductions in water withdrawals and air.” Also, in the first year, they saved $3,000. Their benefits increased as time passed, with an estimated 88% reduction in GHG emissions and 23,000 dollars in savings. Considering Payton’s prestige, abundant resources, and strong community, securing the funds to implement this much-needed change is an achievable goal. Following the footsteps of the schools, we can acquire a grant from an outside organization. If necessary, we can host fundraising events, such as car washes and bake sales. Essentially, the benefits of transitioning to reusable lunch materials outweigh the costs.

In short, we as a school can limit our emissions by implementing sorting stations and adopting reusable lunch ware. We can develop environmentally conscious habits and inspire other schools to take similar action. These suggestions are just the minimum; there are much larger, although more complicated, efforts Payton could be making. Besides, as citizens of one of the globe’s main polluters, aren’t we obligated to acknowledge our privilege? Isn’t it our duty to limit our emissions and waste?

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