June 9, 2017

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle at GOA

Samuel Russo ‘18

One day last year, as many GOA student often do, junior Iris Berman stayed late after school. However, this day had a much larger impact on her than she originally anticipated.
“I saw that the cleaning crew took every single [recycling and garbage] bin and just dumped it all into the same garbage, so that was… very upsetting,” Berman said. “I feel like… the school [was] suggesting that it really doesn’t care about the effect that it has on the environment.”
A self-declared environmentalist who had gone so far as to take “home everyone in the class’s paper to recycle” at the GOA lower school, Berman was horrified to discover that all of the material placed into recycling bins at GOA just ended up in the same place as the rest of the garbage. After discussing the issue with other teachers and students, Berman decided recently that it was time to take action on this issue.
“I had an extra locker, so [junior] Noah Brown and I transformed it into a recycling locker.” The idea of a “recycling locker” might sound foreign, but to Berman and Brown, it meant that they had “a paper bag, like what you find at the grocery store and we’d collect paper without staples or tape” and “bottles with no caps or labels” from other students so that they could take the material home to recycle, according to Brown.
Berman said that the receptions by students to the recycling locker had “been very positive” and that “people [had] been very excited but also recognized that some students might not know about the locker.
Sophomore David Wingens, for example, had heard about the recycling locker but was unable to describe it beyond calling it “a locker that recycles.”
Unbeknownst to Brown and Berman, at the same time that they were embarking on their grassroots recycling initiative, Student Council was looking for a solution in a different way. In multiple meetings with Ms. Stodolski and Mr. Herskowitz since January, Student Council members had voiced their concern to the administration about this issue.
Largely as a result of this urging, the administration had quietly begun to explore a better way forward for GOA’s environmental program. On the same day that Brown explained his recycling locker, Ms. Stodolski said that a new recycling program would be enacted “within the next week” so that “what happened before hopefully won’t be happening now.”
“It has taken us a long time to get to this place,” Ms. Stodolski said. “We’ve wanted to be able to recycle for a long time in a way that’s appropriate and it’s been confusing with many different people involved in the process and with probably a lack of clarity around where to put things.”
Ms. Stodolski also said that many of the challenges in creating this new recycling program have been issues of communication. For example, members of the cleaning team were unaware about their responsibility to put recycled material in a separate dumpster from the trash. Sometimes, though, the material that they were given to recycle was not even recyclable because many students did not know which items belonged in which cans.
Mr. Zulla, GOA’s Director of Facilities and Operations, was able to provide some more details on the new recycling program and the process that took place to arrive to it. According to him, it took a month to develop the new system, which he said was enacted in about the middle of April.
Zulla was also able to provide the documents for this new system, which explain that “Bottles and cans can be discarded at any of the GOA approved locations… [and] paper products and cardboard can be recycled using the small blue containers [found] in every room within the school.”
Before, there was no system in place to recycle cans and bottles and, despite there being a program for them, paper products were rarely recycled, both because of students misplacing the items and because of the cleaning team.
Now, with this new system in place, the onus really lies on students.
“I’m going to need your… [help] to make sure things get where they need to be,” Zulla said. When asked how he planned on making sure that students knew about these changes, Zulla responded simply: “you,” meaning that students must make sure that each person is keeping to the new system.

In just one school year, the effort to create a stronger recycling program at GOA has manifested itself in a grassroots student initiative, a student council project, a plan by the administration, and finally, a complete new program. Now, students and faculty have the opportunity to step up and make their contribution to the environment.

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