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How recycling works and where it all ends up

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Across+the+school+there+are+sets+of+trash+cans+for+reducing+waste+that+reflect+the+image+of+an+environmentally-conscious+campus
Across the school there are sets of trash cans for reducing waste that reflect the image of an environmentally-conscious campus

Across the school there are sets of trash cans for reducing waste that reflect the image of an environmentally-conscious campus

Daisy Calderon/Talon

Daisy Calderon/Talon

Across the school there are sets of trash cans for reducing waste that reflect the image of an environmentally-conscious campus

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National Geographic wrote in 2017 that a whopping 91 percent of plastic does not get recycled and instead ends up in landfills or littering the Earth.

However, when done properly, recycling reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators, conserves natural resources, reduces pollution, saves energy and helps to create jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“In a single year, recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for: 757,000 jobs $36.6 billion in wages; and $6.7 billion in tax revenues,” the EPA wrote based on a 2016 study. “This equates to 1.57 jobs, $76,000 in wages, and $14,101 in tax revenues for every 1,000 tons of materials recycled.”

All over Oak Park High School’s campus, there are multiple sets of trash cans. There are three types: one for bottles and cans, one for recyclable material like plastic and paper, and one for general trash.

According to Superintendent Tony Knight, the goal of these trash cans is toward waste reduction.

“The school is trying to implement a method where students can recycle in order to create a better ecosystem for all of us,” freshman Arnav Subramanian said.

When people dispose of plastic items in the trash, they expect it to get recycled immediately. While that is true in some cases, a majority of times recycled plastic goes to the landfills.

“Of the 8.3 billion metric tons that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste. Of that, only nine percent has been recycled,” Laura Parker wrote for the National Geographic. “The vast majority — 79 percent — is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter. Meaning: at some point, much of it ends up in the oceans, the final sink.”

Sophomore Ava Tribe said recycling is important for the environment.

Infographic by Atmika Iyer

“The impact, specifically, is slowing global warming, reducing waste and pollution and helping to make the Earth a healthier place,” Tribe wrote to the Talon. “I think recycling is super important because we affect the Earth so greatly and if we can leave a positive impact, then generations after us will get to enjoy the healthy Earth we left for them.”

According to the chairperson of Oak Park district’s Environment Education and Awareness Committee, Keyla Treitman, when trash is thrown away it goes to a landfill where it creates gases that pollute the air and heat up the earth.

“Many people believe that our more extreme weather is due to global warming. Our polar ice caps are melting and we are losing habitat for animals that live there. Eventually we will lose low-lying islands in the world due to rising sea levels,” Treitman wrote to the Talon. “We have the ability to mitigate these issues if we put our waste in the right places instead of just throwing it away.”

Recycling occurs when items made from glass, aluminum and certain numbered plastics are melted down and used again to make a similar or different item.

“Recycling avoids having to use virgin materials which requires mining them from the earth or creating virgin plastic which never breaks down,” Treitman wrote.

Knight and Principal Kevin Buchanan both agree that student recycling is mediocre at best.

“When I look into the containers I see that most of the people are trying to do it and then other people don’t seem to understand or not pay attention to it or they have other things on their mind, so I say our program at this particular school is so-so,” Knight said. “At the elementary schools it is better and the middle school it’s actually pretty good. But [the program] falls off when it gets here — that’s an area that I think we need to pay more attention.”

Treitman said there are some students who are more engaged than others in the process.

“I think we need to make more of an effort to educate why we recycle and hopefully more students will begin to understand that their actions (good and bad) have an impact on everyone and everything,” Treitman wrote. “We would welcome any ideas from students as to how to get that message out to high school students in a better way.”

Students also throw food in the recycling bins, which don’t serve the purpose of recycling food, thus affecting its ability to be sorted into the correct categories. Oak Park uses the recycling company, Waste Management.

“Once you throw food in the recycling, then it becomes really difficult to deal with. The recycling company doesn’t want food in the recycling bin because it makes it not able to be sorted,” Buchanan said.

Knight promoted the idea of not using single-use plastic all together.

“Try to buy products that don’t require a lot of packaging,” Knight said. “If you have a reusable water bottle we have these bottle filling stations all around by all means use them instead of bringing a plastic bottle which as we now know has to be collected, sorted and shipped all the way to China so you can imagine the carbon footprint for that, right?”

In addition to not using plastic water bottles, Buchanan suggests using biodegradable Ziplock bags.

“It’s our planet so we should take care of it,” Buchanan said. “I’d like to see kids stop using Ziploc bags. You walk around this campus any time of the day even after its been cleaned and you’ll see little plastic bags trapped in the bushes and all over the place. Again it’s the use single-use plastic that’s hurting the environment.”

According to the New York Times, most of America’s recycling is sent to Asia, with the majority going to China.

“China, the world’s largest importer and recycler of scrap metals, plastic and paper, has decided it will no longer take what it calls “foreign garbage” and is set to ban imports of 24 types of waste,” the World Economic Forum wrote.

According to Knight, there might be new changes implemented to the recycling system due to new tariffs being placed on the recycling material.

“We actually have a problem and that is with the tariffs and the Chinese being angry with us right now, they’re not wanting to accept the recycling. Because most of the recycling that we collect in California and [a lot of it] is shipped to China for sorting and refabricating,” Knight said. “Right now they are having a hard time with it and so they are demanding a higher level of purity of the recycling which is very expensive and difficult for us to do.”

CBS News reported that some of materials being recycled, like old technology, are very toxic to people living in that area. Subsequently, China started purifying what is being sent to them. According to Recycling Today, there will be taxes placed on items including but not limited to, plastics, paper, copper, nickel and aluminum.

“What we are hearing is that we might be going the opposite way then we were going,” Knight said. “Instead of collecting more and different things that can be recycled, we are going backwards and there are going to be fewer and fewer things that can be recycled.”

In the past, the school has used plastics with the rating of 1-7. According to NonToxic Revolution, the seven types of plastic stand for different things. For example, plastics with a number one mean that those plastics are polyethylene terephthalate, which are the generic material of water bottles. Now, only plastics with a number 1 and 2 — glass, plastic, aluminum, etc. — are allowed to be recycled on campus.

The New York Times wrote that many people are doing what is called ‘wishful’ or ‘aspirational’ recycling: they are continually throwing the wrong things in recycling bins like a “greasy pizza box, a disposable coffee cup, the odd plastic bag.”

On Sept. 15, community members and volunteers participated in Heal the Bay’s international Coastal Cleanup day by participating in the annual Medea Creek Cleanup.

“It is important to recognize our harmful effect on ocean life which, most of us ignore,” Students for the Protection of Animals and the Environment (SPAE) club president Claire Epstein wrote to the Talon. “We can also help ocean life by doing things as easy as picking up trash we see laying around.

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About the Writer
Emily Francis, News Editor

Emily Francis is a sophomore at Oak Park High School. She is currently one of the 2018-19 News Editors.

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