Can recycling be salvaged?

Amelia Sinclair and Sophia Murray

NESPA Winner: Feature story, 2023

The Harbinger, Algonquin Regional High School, Northborough, MA

Since its origin in 2006 with the introduction of white paper recycling, Algonquin’s recycling programs have undergone numerous changes due to new initiatives and decreased participation rates. Presently, ARHS uses the single stream recycling program, and both students and staff recognize a need for change to make the program more effective.

The single stream program is a system where all recyclable materials, including white paper, don’t have to be sorted and are collected together by the company E.L. Harvey and sorted at their facility.

Currently, Algonquin uses a colored-bin system in each of the classrooms to denote which bins go to recycling and which bins go to trash. According to facilities director Mike Gorman, black and gray bins are for trash and green and blue bins are for recycling. Recycling bins should be accompanied by signs describing what can and cannot be placed into single-stream bins. According to a Harbinger audit in early March of 55 randomly selected classrooms from all hallways, signage was inconsistent from classroom to classroom, and 40% of classrooms had an incorrect number of bins (either too few or too many trash and/or recycling bins), which could lead to confusion for students and teachers.

Materials that are properly recycled must not be contaminated by non-recyclable materials, which poses challenges particularly in a school environment. If custodians see any food in either a green or blue recycling bin, the entire bin is considered contaminated and thrown out with the trash.

“[The custodians] used to try hand pick it when [the amount we were recycling] first started dwindling, but it got to be so much labor and it was ridiculous and no one is even paying attention, but that’s where the students can step in, the teachers can step in,” Gorman said.  “We are still recycling if [people dispose of their waste] properly.”


Read the full story here.