Completing Schools' Recycling Circle
- Paper: Chapel Hill Herald (NC)
- Author: BERNADETTE PELISSIER Columnist
- Date: November 10, 2007
- Section: Editorial Page: 2
Schools in our community are beginning to garner recognition for environmental stewardship. Recently, Carrboro High School was nominated for the Gold Medal Building of America Award in the Carolinas. It earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. There is only one other school in North Carolina that has LEED certification.Such changes in school construction are desirable in these times of concern about energy efficiency and global warming.
But I was recently reminded that there are more gaps to fill in so that schools can receive an "A" in their report card in other areas of environmental stewardship such as recycling.
These are times when we should not have to depend on parents to petition schools to provide recycling. I was recently surprised to hear parents complaining about a lack of recycling facilities at schools.
It first started with a conversation with an old colleague. He told me that there was no outdoor recycling at one of the Orange County high schools. He had been asking school staff to provide recycling bins at sporting events. A neighbor, who happens to be a friend of my colleague, said they were working together on this issue. They felt frustrated the school was not initially responsive.
My neighbor added that since her son had started high school he seemed to have forgotten how to recycle. She had to re-educate him about what was to be recycled. She felt that the schools were not consistently reinforcing the message about recycling.
Being curious about outdoor recycling at other schools, I drove by Chapel Hill High. I did not see recycling bins near the ball fields. I asked others, including some teachers, about recycling in the schools. All of them reported that there were recycling programs in the schools, and that they had been initiated by interested individual staff. In one school a science teacher had started the program but it later became the responsibility of an environmental studies class. One mother reported that recycling bins in one Orange County school were reported to have mysteriously disappeared.
I recalled how my daughter, when she was in elementary school, once admonished me for not recycling. I thought I was conscientious but I must have slipped up. Her criticism reminded me of how grateful I was that she was learning about environmentally ethical behavior in school. She had internalized the ethic.
Hearing the comments from various individuals, I wondered how schools could do better in teaching our children to be responsible citizens. Many, me included, feel that governmental entities must serve as a role model for environmental stewardship. If the government does not do so, how can citizens be expected to change their behavior? One mother told me that, as a parent and a citizen, she feels it is the responsibility of our school system to be passing on sustainable values to our children.
Fortunately, both school districts advocate, directly or indirectly, environmental stewardship. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system has as one of its goals to be "a conscientious steward of the resources that it has been provided." The philosophy statement of the Orange County schools stipulates that individuals are given the opportunity to develop personal responsibility and citizenship. Doesn't citizenship include environmental stewardship?
My initial concerns about the lack of outdoor recycling at schools in this county were heightened with all the recent publicity about the solid waste transfer station. There isn't a soul who wants a landfill or transfer station next door. It is crucial that schools teach our children to recycle and minimize the need for landfills.
There is some recent good news. Schools are taking steps to ensure comprehensive recycling. At one school, parents were heartened to see recycling bins suddenly appear on the athletic fields. The athletic director at the school made announcements at footballs games about their presence. Unfortunately, these recycling bins are still not used by everyone attending the games. Some parents stayed after the game to pick up plastic bottles and put them in the recycling bin. But this is a step in the right direction.
A Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member informed me that at a recent board meeting, a report was presented on recycling at the schools. Board members subsequently asked the administration to check into recycling bins for outdoor locations at the schools.
Let us hope all the schools in Orange County will soon adopt these additional outdoor recycling measures and clearly communicate the environmental ethic to all staff and students. Our schools will then be able to be proud of furthering their goal of educating future citizens who have internalized the principles of sustainability. Teaching students to protect the environment is no different from teaching ethics or social norms.
Bernadette Pelissier is a retired social scientist who lives in Orange County and serves on several community boards. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 106 Mallette St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516.
Author: BERNADETTE PELISSIER Columnist
Copyright, 2007, The Durham Herald Company