Lack of recycling at high school caf irks community
By Sue Tiffin
Published Nov. 14, 2017
Andrew Carmount doesn’t recycle in the high school cafeteria anymore, and he’s not alone.
The recycling program in the cafeteria at Haliburton high school ended in June 2016, and according to the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, there is no longer a food program for organic waste in the cafeteria.
“The majority of the time I bring lunch containers from home for lunch, but it really irritates me when there’s no option to recycle,” said Andrew. “I see most students just throwing their stuff into the recycling without caring where it goes. I assume they don’t know or just can’t be bothered. There seems to be a few concerned about recycling but many people don’t talk or even notice.”
Carmount, a Grade 12 student, sat on the school’s Ecoteam when news came that the Practical Academic Life Skills (PALS) students, who organize the recycling program at the school, were no longer going to pick up recycling at the cafeteria because it hadn’t been sorted or disposed of properly.
“Recycling does not take place in the cafeteria because the bins from that area were repeatedly contaminated with food scraps, non-rinsed containers, and non-recyclable items to the degree that the entire recycling matter from the school was contaminated and potentially destined for the landfill rather than a recycling plant,” said Laura Blaker, TLDSB communications officer, speaking on behalf of HHSS staff. “It was felt that it was better to recycle on a smaller scale correctly than to recycle on a larger scale non-successfully.”
“Cans and bottles are collected weekly from each classroom and there are also weekly reminders for cardboard and paper to be taken outside to the recycling bins,” said Catherine Shedden, TLDSB district manager of corporate communications. “However, HHSS has discontinued the recycling bins in the cafeteria – mostly because the infrastructure does not provide for acceptable recycled products. For example, a yogurt container must be clean before it can be placed in a recycling container. This process of cleaning out containers is not easily managed (there would need to be some sort of rinse stations built and maintained) or monitored.”
Carmount said the Ecoteam was disappointed to hear the recycling bins were removed from the school’s cafeteria.
“We were pretty angry about the news and ranted at a few meetings,” he said. “Our biggest anger was, what kind of school doesn’t have recycling nowadays?”
The TLDSB notes that, despite the lack of recycling in the cafeteria, the high school does still have a recycling program in place in classrooms and offices that continues to be managed by the PALS team on a daily basis.
“The staff offices are checked daily, and twice a week teachers are invited to send a representative from their class outside to the recycling bins with the recycling from the classroom,” said Blaker. “The Practical Academics students help direct the classroom representatives to the correct bins and supply new bags for the receptacles.”
Recycling activities are managed at schools across the TLDSB through eco-clubs, teachers and students.
“Custodians are only required to pick up recycling and garbage that is collected and pre-sorted,” said Blaker. “Custodians are not required to sort the garbage/recycling themselves as per CUPE. But, we do support sorting and recycling at every school.”
After recyclables are collected and organized by students, custodians take the recycle waste to the curb for collection, where it is picked up by Garbutt Disposal.
Gravenhurst High School, Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School, and Lindsay Collegiate and Vocational Institute also in the TLDSB, continue to recycle in their cafeterias, through student-and staff-led recycling programs. At Fenelon Falls Secondary School, students recycle in the classrooms.
“I see most students just throwing their stuff into the recycling without caring where it goes,” said Carmount. “I assume they don’t know or just can’t be bothered. There seems to be a few concerned about recycling but many people don’t talk or even notice. I think the biggest reason that forced the recycling from the cafeteria to shut down was the lack of education. ... If students learn to recycle in an institution like school, they’re more likely to do it in other places like home.”
“Sitting there listening to Andrew...my heart went out to him,” said Moore. “I know it’s been different in the past, I know some of the reasons why it’s changed, but we gotta do something to help guys like him, kids who are trying to do something.”
Terry Moore, vice-president of Environment Haliburton, who sits on the Algonquin Highlands environment and stewardship committee alongside Carmount, a youth representative, agreed.
Moore said there’s less of a capacity for teachers and the board to support programs due to economic pressures. As a teenager at his high school, students ate on reusable platewear but he saw changes in policies and habits as his own kids went through school.
“There wasn’t a piece of plastic anywhere in sight,” he said. “Then as I saw the cuts take place, you saw the pressure to contract out the food, janitorial services, the cost pressures just mounted. It seemed cheaper to basically not do those things and not to have staff that would be able to clean the reusable utensils and plateware and all that stuff...and the pressure to bring in pre-packaged, pre-wrapped, always in plastic stuff from the outside.”
Alongside those changes, he notes in society a lack of emphasis on reusing and reducing rather than just recycling and increasing pressure on students to have jobs making them less available for after-school projects as some of the many reasons why schools might have shifted away from a focus on sound environmental practices.
“This is just kind of a microcosm of how far we’ve come, and the school is a reflection of what happened everywhere else,” he said, giving examples of “mountains of waste” produced by a culture of takeaway cups and dishes rather than an emphasis on using less and bringing your own dishes from home.
“The upcoming generations are going to be saddled with so much including all of the climate change stuff that’s coming home to roost, all of the endangered species, etc. How are we preparing them if we don’t model some way of being able to deal with our own waste? If we just produce ever increasing mountains of the stuff. It seems to me this is so wrong on so many levels.”
Moore said strategies would need to be implemented now in preparation for compliance with the Waste-Free Ontario Act, passed last year.
“If schools aren’t doing it, who is going to do it? That’s one of the largest single-location sources of consumption of food that we have in the county, at the high school. If we’re not doing it there, wow. That just speaks volumes about how far we’ve slipped.”
Moore suggested ideas like promoting reducing and reusing rather than jumping straight to recycling, starting at the front-end of the process to make sure that food from students and through the cafeteria has no packaging or packaging that is easiest to recycle, and encouraging students to fill their own cups or Thermoses through a different dispenser than vending machines filled with cans and plastic.
“I’m not trying to say the high school’s to blame,” said Moore, citing again the microcosm of a broader culture. “How are we going to take leadership locally? Our public institutions have to exercise leadership, they need to, and if they don’t, they’re not then modelling behaviour for the next generation. What are the kids learning, when they watch this stuff - that it’s just a throwaway culture. Everything ends up in the garbage and it’s someone else’s problem. At every level, people are going to have to start really digging down and looking at what they can do to help be part of the solution.”
Moore called on students, the high school, local government and the community to play a role and have conversations that, instead of point fingers, discuss what is being done to change the circumstances.
“I hope we can do something about this,” he said. “You know, this is just such a travesty.”
At a Nov. 2 council meeting, Algonquin Highlands councillors and Mayor Carol Moffatt expressed concern about the lack of recycling occurring at the high school, as reported by Carmount, who sits on the environment and stewardship committee as a youth representative.
“Let’s ask,” said Moffatt. “Let’s ask the school board. There could be some very understandable reasons why it isn’t or can’t occur. But if we have a committee where we deliberately put a youth member on there, I think it’s our responsibility on his behalf as a young person in the community to circle back and make the inquiry.”
The TLDSB said students are encouraged to bring reusable containers such as water bottles to schools, as well as waste efficient lunches. An environmental impact document approved in 2013 that will be reviewed next year lists guidelines for environmental practices in categories that include environmental awareness and learning, energy conservation, and waste reduction.