Auditing the trash

The trash at Friday Harbor High School was audited on April 19, and the results were smelly.

“Mixed paper was the highest volume in the trash,” Friday Harbor High School student Bryce Ridwan said. Ridwan and Oscar Coffey explained that for their community project, they wanted to bring about awareness about recycling and the county’s waste stream. The two juniors wanted to collect actual data as to what the school was throwing away. The Eco Club, of which they are members, joined in with gloves in hand to sift through the trash and get to the bottom of the issue.

The Eco Club has been going strong for the last six years. STEM teacher Sam Garson is the teacher advisor, with Katie Fleming, San Juan County Environmental Stewardship Department Solid Waste Coordinator, and Jess Newly, Friends of the San Juans Science and Education Director, acting as advisors.

The students have traveled to Olympia to bring environmental issues to legislators’ attention, worked with elementary students to educate about recycling and reducing the waste stream. In the past they have attended Climate Reality Trainings in Seattle, and have worked with the Department of Emergency Management to create online resources in case of a natural disaster. Their overall goal is to create a more sustainable community.

Their attention currently has been focused on reducing the waste stream.

That paper was found in such high numbers was one sign recycling could be done better at the school.

“A lot of things that are being put into the garbage could either be recycled or composted,” Ava Martin, club president, said. “So people are either not putting things in the proper bins, or do not have access to the proper bins.”

There are a lot of bins, the students explained, but not all of them are clearly labeled.

The issue with not putting recycling or trash in the proper bins is that if trash gets into the recycling, it can contaminate the whole bin and make it unrecyclable. One food item in recycling, Martin pointed out, can ruin the whole bag. Speaking of food, plastic forks, spoons and knives were commonly found.

“We also found a significant amount of plastic utensils,” Martin added.

The students are tossing around a few ideas on how to increase the availability of sustainable utensils. Holding a beach clean-up and giving wooden utensils is one possibility. Raising funds for sustainable forks, spoons, knives and plates is another.

Ridwan also added that using trays and racks strategically placed throughout the school so students would not have to walk all the way back to the lunch room is another thought.

Even further, however, the students expressed hope that the island community, in general, will increase their awareness in regard to proper recycling procedures and take steps to reduce their own waste.

“You can make a difference. One person can make a difference,” Grace Eltinge explained. “If you put one thing of food in recycling it ruins the whole bag, so one person really does make a difference.”

For those interested in assisting to fund their goals for reducing the waste stream, or other projects to achieve a more sustainable community, contact Garson at Friday Harbor High.

“Working with these young people is one of the most inspiring things I do… we learn from each other,” Fleming said.