The 22-student class spent all 80 minutes of the first period on Wednesday sorting the waste collected from the Si Commons on Monday and Tuesday from both the lunch periods. The class was divided into three groups—one for the compost bins, one for the recycling bins, and one for the landfill bins—in order to separate waste, weigh it, and place it in the correct bins.
“I guess mostly out of the context of the course itself, part of it is being responsible in trying to reduce our footprint on the earth as much as we can,” said APES teacher Bill Anderson when asked what the motivation was to start the lab back in the 2011-2012 school year. “One of the big ways is in the waste materials that we generate. I treat it as kind of a learning experience for (APES students) and for the school as a whole so we can see what we’re doing with our waste and what we should be doing and what the potential for it is.”
Despite the education and calls to action students have heard about where food waste should go, this year’s data suggests that students at St. Louis U. High do not make much of an attempt to put their waste in the correct bins. Along with the general apathy of students toward throwing their waste in the wrong bins, students also throw away things that are not waste items. Of the waste from the four lunch periods the APES class examined, many uneaten food items, along with 18 silverware items, were thrown in the trash, an average of 4.5 silverware items per lunch period.
If students were to throw away silverware at this rate over the course of a month, roughly 180 forks, knives, and spoons would be thrown away when they should have been washed and reused—and more astounding, over 1500 silverware items would be thrown away per year at this rate.
Over the past years, Food Service Consultants and the administration have limited the number of items in the Commons that actually need to be sent to landfills. Except for chip bags, candy wrappers, and ice cream, anything else sold in the Commons can either be composted or recycled. The changes apparently haven’t caught on among the student body. Only 12 percent, by mass, of the items found in the trash bins actually needed to go to landfill. Students did fairly well at keeping recycling out of the trash bins—recycling in the trash made up only 14 percent, by volume, of the contents of those bins. The other 74 percent of the contents of the trash bins were all items that should have been composted. Some of these were items that students may not know can be composted, such as the fry boats and plastic cups, but many were thrown in the trash out of laziness, like uneaten food.
While sorting through the trash, students in the class were struck by the terrible smell and surprising inaccuracy of themselves and their peers.
“I’m gonna make sure my friends know what goes where,” said senior Matt Nester in class.
“I’m actually gonna start putting stuff in the right place,” said senior John Schwartz later in the period.
Though Anderson continues to put faith in students to improve each year, it has yet to happen since the class has been doing this lab.
“It’s discouraging to see it be the same pretty much year in and year out,” said Anderson. “Granted there are some irregularities (in the data over the past years) because things have changed, but we’re not doing nearly as good of a job as we’re capable of, and it’s unfortunate because it’s even easier now. Virtually everything in the cafeteria is compostable, and that was the smallest amount of material that was put in the right place.”