Students give waste the heave-ho at CVU11/20/08

Nov. 20, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Sounds of laughter drifted out from a bright orange tent as smiling Champlain Valley Union High School students stood in a circle, giddily ripping apart garbage bags last Thursday. Candy and chip wrappers stood out in an odorous pile of half-eaten sandwiches, fruits and granola bars. Plastic bottles rolled out of the mess when a slight breeze blew by. Students, some wearing what looked like hazmat jumpsuits, laughed with each other and mocked their peers for tossing out clearly useable items and foods.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
CVU seniors use claws to sift through garbage bags at the school’s Trash on the Lawn Day.

Students in Susan Strack’s environmental science class, as well as members of CVU’s Environmental Club, tore apart bags of last Tuesday’s garbage in an effort to sort the waste and determine what students were throwing away instead of recycling.

“The environmental class uses the data to make change here at CVU,” Strack said.

This was the third year for CVU’s Trash on the Lawn Day, and progress in recycling and composting was evident just in the numbers.

The high school reduced its daily trash output by nearly 170 pounds from last year’s numbers. The 2007 Trash on the Lawn Day counted 482 pounds of trash, while this year saw 312 pounds.

Jen Sankey, the waste reduction coordinator for the Chittenden Solid Waste District, said she’s overseen similar Trash on the Lawn Days in Essex and Colchester, and at Mount Mansfield Union High School. She said CVU continues to be a leader in recycling and composting.

“It’s amazing how much you can tell about a school or individual by what they throw away,” Sankey said.

According to Strack, the school reduced its Styrofoam waste by 98 percent, metal can recyclables by 88 percent, and compostable items by 68 percent.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Charlotte junior Kate Litke and Williston senior Dylan Fath, co-presidents of Champlain Valley Union High’s Environmental Club, help sort garbage and recyclables last Thursday during the school’s third annual Trash on the Lawn Day.


“That’s huge,” Strack said. “We had half the bags we had last year.”

Environmental Club co-president and Williston senior Dylan Fath agreed.

“We’ve eliminated a lot of Styrofoam with some of the changes in the lunchroom,” Fath said as he helped sort trash and recyclables into labeled piles.

Last spring, the Food Service staff and the Environmental Club helped get new reusable plates for the cafeteria, along with a better composting system. Fath believes those changes made a world of difference. It also made the sorting time go by faster with less garbage.

In past years we have been out on the lawn ripping open bags and sorting trash well through third block,” Fath said, referring to the school’s lunch period. “This year however, we were done opening new bags halfway through third block.”

The sorting of trash began at the beginning of second block.

Plastic bottles seemed to be the problem item this year. Strack said students discovered 31.5 pounds of plastic bottles, mostly from classroom trash bags. Fath said since most bottles came from classroom trash bags, there needed to be more recycling opportunities school-wide.

“The simple solution may just be putting a few more recycling bins out by the trash cans in the halls and in other commons areas,” he said.

As trash and reusables collected in different areas, students agreed the hands-on experience reinforced the need for recycling. Charlotte senior Virginia Farley said she helped out with the event two years ago and took the environmental class this year because she’s interested in pursuing environmental science in the future. While she likes the fact students recycle more, she’s hoping they’ll continue to curb their waste.

“The fact that there’s still so much uneaten foods people throw out is disheartening,” Farley said. “I just found a non-eaten cookie, and the cookies are good here.”

But overall, Fath said he couldn’t complain with Thursday’s results. He said CVU has made a concerted effort in reducing all its waste, from saving electricity by turning off computers at the end of the day, to reducing paper waste by using more electronics-based programs.

“As you can see, the CVU society certainly cares about our footprint,” Fath said.