Mountain Lakes High School Makes Huge Strides in Recycling
The 2013/14 school year was the kick off of a new focus on school recycling. The project was spearheaded by Mr Frank Sanchez, Director of Curriculum, Mr. Justin Connolly, MLHS Custodian and the Sustainable Jersey Green Team. The first step was to establish a recycling benchmark. Mimi Kaplan, from the Green Team, partnered with the MLHS Environmental Club to “dumpster dive” for three hours one afternoon separating and weighing the recyclables and trash generated by the Mountain Lakes High School on a typical day. What they found was 304 total pounds of garbage of which 60 pounds were recycled...and 73 pounds that could have been were actually found in the trash. The Green Team knew that Mountain Lakes students could do better.
Studies have shown that the type and placement of recycling receptacles is critical to success. It’s not that people don’t want to recycle, its just that they’re busy and don’t take the time to go looking for the proper receptacles. Net: trash, ideally labeled “landfill” to drive home its ultimate destination, and recycling receptacles need to be right next to one another to generate the highest compliance.
So getting the proper receptacles into every classroom was step #1 for the 2013/14 recycling kick off. Step #2 was raising student/faculty awareness. Mr. Davies talked about recycling during the school orientation in September and reinforced the message at another school event in January.
As it turns out these were simple steps with a big payoff. In April of 2014 the Green Team returned to do another waste audit and found a 51% increase in the high school’s recyclables collected Although a good deal of variation can be expected based upon the random day chosen, this level of increase suggests that the simple changes + education that the Team put in place reaped a sizable reward.
The audit’s numbers revealed, however, that an estimated 25 pounds of recyclables are still being thrown away every day. That represents 4500 pounds on an annual basis and it's a big number. The biggest culprit is white paper (48%) followed by plastic (32%).
The Team intends to tackle this issue again in the 2014/2015 school year. To that end, a monthly meeting has been established with school district leadership, the Department of Public Works, Home and School and the Environmental Commission. The #1 change being discussed is to remove receptacles from individual classrooms and replace them with centralized “recycling centers” in strategic places throughout the Mountain Lakes High School. In addition to making sure the proper receptacles are located next to one another, receptacles should be fitted with special lids that limit what can be placed within them. Again, studies have proven that this visual cue is hugely effective in stopping someone from co-mingling trash with valuable recyclables.
Not only can these type of centralized receptacles change behavior, they also should translate into labor savings as custodians don’t have to enter each and every class room to collect the trash.
Other ideas for 2014/2015 include right-sizing recycling bins in high traffic places like the office, and the addition of new water filling stations. The replacement of normal drinking fountains with those that dispense chilled water into refillable bottles should result in an overall reduction in the use of plastic bottles. To be effective, this change will need to be accompanied by student education and signage.
Earlier this article refers to recyclables as “valuable.” And in fact they are. In 2013 Mountain Lakes entered into a new garbage contract whereby the Borough owns our own recyclables and is now able to profit off their collection and sale. Monitoring of the results of this new contract is in process, however, the Borough makes upwards of $15,000 a year off our recyclables. So not only do residents save tax dollars by selling their recyclables, they also fill fewer green bags every week, recognizing further savings.
So what can be recycled in Mountain Lakes? Almost everything but Styrofoam and #3 and #6 plastics. Those #5 or #7 plastic containers? Throw it in. How about asceptic juice boxes? Yes. Tin foil? Of course. This is a significant increase in what can be taken versus our previous contract (2012).
So – congratulations to the Green Team and best of luck getting even greater compliance in the next school year!