CHS Students record trash, recycling, and compost materials

Charlottesville High School students are challenging themselves and other city students to become more aware of their recycling and waste disposal habits. Student volunteers kicked off the Recycling Challenge by going through waste and recycling bags that came straight from the CHS cafeteria to identify how they can do better.

Anna Perry is the executive of the Green BACON club at CHS, the sustainability-focused offshoot of the popular “Best All-Around Club of Nerds.” Although she sees the limitations young people have in environmentalism, she is passionate about making as much positive change as possible.

“Waste is one of the only things you can control at this age,” Perry said. “Because you live in someone’s house, there is so much you can’t control, but controlling your waste is something that is just so easy.”

Republic Services, the recycling and waste hauler for city schools, is partnering on the Recycling Challenge, and wants to see an increase in single-stream recycling and compost rates.

Matt Russell, General Manager at Republic Services, explained that he sees a common misconception that single-stream recycling means recyclable materials can be disposed of in the same bin as trash, with the expectation that further along the line they will be separated. 

When this happens, the materials that could have been recycled and reused can become contaminated by food or other waste, and those materials go to the landfill.

“There is an important human component on the front side, of identifying before anything goes in to the container of what is recyclable, what is compostable, and what is land fill material,” Russell said. “We are identifying that we can get some of these products out of the waste stream earlier on in the process.”

Competitor Peter van der Linde, owner of Van der Linde Recycling, operates on the principle that co-mingling trash and recyclables is easier on the consumer and leads to a greater overall volume of recyclables. 

Van der Linde produced 22,000 tons of recyclables in 2011 at its site in Zion Crossroads, but because of contamination, the overall recycling rate is only 28 percent.  With source separation, Republic Services claims to have a 96 percent recycling rate.

City Schools Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins also volunteered her time to help the students out.

“You all really have the potential to impact the environment in a profound way, and you are learning about it early,” Atkins told the students.

“I think the beauty of this is the opportunity to realize we can make some decisions in what the schools purchase, and about how it is packaged to really impact the amount of compost or recycling material we end up with,” Atkins added.

Charlottesville High School, along with some of the elementary and middle schools, has already made a change to compostable lunch trays. Anna Perry said the biggest challenge is getting students aware of how to dispose of those, and other cafeteria items, correctly.

“I think the limiting factor is awareness of what we need to do; of what compost is, of what recycling is, and if people knew, it would be easy enough to just put it in the right bin,” Perry said.

CHS will also do a follow-up waste audit in the spring to determine whether the recycling and composting rates are improving in the school.

After analyzing the benchmark of how well the school is recycling, students and Republic Waste will work together to bring recycling education initiatives into the classrooms at CHS. They also hope to expand the Recycling Challenge into middle and elementary schools in the spring.

Libbey Kitten, Science Coordinator of Charlottesville City Schools, encouraged the students during the audit.

“Younger kids really look up to big kids and they would look up to you more than a teacher,” Kitten said. You are the beginning of something that can really be a city wide effort.”