Peer Education and Waste Sorting – A Cyclical Relationship

January 9, 2017

Can you recycle plastic containers if they still have a little yogurt in them? Do paper plates go in the compost? What does “plastic film” mean? These are some of the everyday questions that Prospect Sierra students ponder as they finish lunch and dispose of their waste.  

In order to collect data about how well students sort their lunchtime materials and waste, this fall the Avis Student Green Council has been conducting a waste monitoring project. So far they’ve recorded some interesting trends:

  • The recycling bin tends to have the biggest number of items that should go in other bins.
  • Compostable items like food scraps and School Foodies trays often end up in the recycling.
  • Plastic film and wrappers are sometimes put in the recycling or compost, when they should go in the landfill bin.
  • Overall, only about 65% of waste items are ending up in the correct bin.

After reviewing this data, the Student Green Council immediately began discussing how to improve the sorting. To reinforce guidelines about which items go in each bin, student volunteers recently made a short video that will be screened for the whole campus. They also created a quiz to help everyone practice sorting. And, students can look forward to a test run of some new, taller, color-coded bins and signs, to see if that helps prevent common sorting mistakes.

While recycling may not be the most scintillating environmental issue, it is an important practice.  If everyone were to pause and think about where their waste should go, we can begin to integrate the ecoliteracy concept that nature is based on cycles. A sustainable future for humans must also be organized around continuous, cyclical flow of materials, instead of a linear process of extraction, manufacture, use, and disposal.

Stay tuned to find out if the students’ peer education efforts are effective!

Jesse Feldman, Eighth Grade Science Teacher