Confusion surrounds Akins recycling

There+are+three+containers+for+trucks+to+pick+up+recycling+at+Akins.+Recycling+advocates+have+expressed+concern%0Aabout+what+is+being+recycled+and+how+efforts+can+be+improved+on+campus.

Ricardo Villegas

There are three containers for trucks to pick up recycling at Akins. Recycling advocates have expressed concern about what is being recycled and how efforts can be improved on campus.

Bradley Barto, Staff Writer

The act of recycling represents a small but important effort aimed at improving the environment to its supporters.

However, recently some recycling advocates at Akins have questioned whether a coordinated recycling effort currently exists on campus. The head custodian who was in charge of recycling efforts resigned in October. The campus Green Teens group is disbanded. And the assistant principal in charge of the custodial staff is new to the campus.

We are in the 21st Century here… we need to be doing more (recycling).”

— Bill Creel

Those with questions about campus recycling have said they don’t know where to turn for answers.

Meanwhile, empty or misused blue recycle bins are evidence to some teachers and students that many on campus are either confused or are not thinking about the environmental impact of their actions.

In some areas there aren’t any recycling bins. Often, the recycling dumpsters are nearly empty and the dumpsters designated landfill are filled with papers and cardboard boxes.

Junior Issie Luna said she is disappointed about the lack of clear recycling guidelines and efforts at Akins.

“It seems like people have tried to take initiative over it but it never really got carried through,” she said.

Biology teacher Kristen Aaltonen said she thinks clarification is needed to help students and staff know how to properly dispose of recyclable materials.

“There’s a lot of confusion, students don’t know what to recycle or if recycling is actually taking place,” she said.

In 2011, blue recycle bins were placed in classrooms across campus. Today, teachers and students said they are confused on what is allowed to go in the bins.

Jennifer Cregar, the school district’s sustainability coordinator, said that anything that is recyclable should be allowed in the bins. However, assistant principal Bill Creel said he would prefer that only paper and cardboard be allowed in the bins until a coordinated plan and education effort can be implemented.

The recycling program is a part of the Austin school district’s effort to support the city of Austin’s goal of producing zero waste by the year 2040. In 2010, the school board passed a resolution in support of this goal, and in 2011 it passed an environmental sustainability policy to help make this become a reality.

Monica Loera Sanchez is an Austin ISD parent concerned with recycling issues. She said she supports recycling efforts because the environment and sustaining it, is one of her top three priorities in life.

In 2008 she joined the district’s Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee, which seeks to guide recycling and other sustainability efforts. She said that recycling efforts are challenging when campuses and certain communities are not as involved.

“That’s one of the things we do as a committee. We will go out to individual schools and help them get organized so that they understand what it means to recycle,” Loera Sanchez said.

Meeting these goals takes a continual effort toward educating and communicating what students and teachers can do to reduce waste at each campus, Loera Sanchez said. The school board’s 2010 resolution urges campuses “to create a school community ‘Green Team’ that will effectively implement energy saving and other sustainable practices.”

Typically, the head custodian at each campus also serves as the school’s primary contact for the Green Team. However, the head custodian at Akins stepped down from his position in October and campus administrators are looking for a replacement who can take over the custodial and waste-reduction coordination efforts.

Creel, who started at Akins in August, is serving as the interim until a new head custodian is hired. He said the campus’ recycling efforts have room for improvement.

“We are in the 21st Century here and recycling is huge and we need to be doing more personally, and I would like to see that happen,” he said.

Creel said he hopes the new head custodian will make recycling a top priority. He hopes that eventually recycle bins specifically for plastic bottles and other items can be placed around campus to increase the amount of material that is collected on campus.

Creagar said all Austin schools should be striving toward reducing their waste creation through a variety of means, including recycling. Encouraging students and staff to recycle requires building a culture of environmental stewardship at each campus supported by clear systems and consistency, she said.

“We’re trying to build a habit of getting people to recycle; you have to do things consistently,” Creager said.