As a Viking, I believe that WCI excels at many things. We have successful athletics, a thriving arts community, and honours in multiple academic competitions. Adding another notch to our belt, WCI was recognised as an Ontario EcoSchool in 2012 for the numerous environmental initiatives we had established at our school at that time, including an extensive collection of solar panels, water bottle refill stations, and recycling bins. Looking at our accomplishments, it’s clear to see that we set an example for other schools in the region in all of these areas.
At least, we used to.
Since this past fall, WCI administration has begun to gradually shut down the recycling program, a move that puts our designation as an EcoSchool at risk of being revoked. This decision came as a shock to me because recycling seems like such a basic task. However, students have been sorting their recycling poorly for years and, as the bins piled higher with non-recyclables and paper was mixed together with cans half-full of pop, it was too much for the administrative staff to handle, especially during the labour dispute in the fall between the custodial staff’s union and the Ontario Government.
Principal Shortreed, who has been advocating for the improvement of the recycling program for years, explained, “They’re becoming a health and safety hazard in that they’re bringing in fruit flies, people aren’t separating the materials, they’re not getting emptied. It’s getting treated as a garbage can.”
Many people say that the problem is that there aren’t enough bins around the school and that the few out there haven’t been labelled properly. I have often found myself faced with a blue bin overflowing with both paper and cans. Although I know these recyclables should be separated, I toss my coffee cup in the mix because it seems better than throwing it in the garbage.
However, the real issue is the lack of accountability. At the moment, nobody is taking care of the mess: not students, not teachers, not custodians, not administration. Ms. Shortreed said there is some ownership on the part of the Environment Club, ABCD, and the Life Skills program, which has provided assistance, but “it’s sort of been ineffective through those groups for some time.”
Rishika G., one of the co-executives of the Environment Club, countered this by saying that once she had heard about the plan to shut down the recycling program, the club got together to come up with a solution “that would address the complacency on behalf of the students and teachers, as well as make sorting properly a lot more intuitive.”
Their solution involves installing covered bins in the halls at waist-height that would force students to sort their recyclables. They would also run announcements every Thursday, asking the homeroom environment reps to empty their classroom’s bin.
I admire their plan and I hope it is successful, but it will only work if students and staff cooperate. It is unreasonable to ask other people to clean up our mess, especially since avoiding the mess in the first place is so simple.
Admittedly, the student body only has to recycle properly with a smaller group taking care of the program. Ms. Shortreed described the perfect recycling system as needing “two to five strong student leaders, one strong staff sponsor, and you would have a regular schedule. You would know who’s doing which bins in that schedule, they would have clear instructions for when, and how they come and empty them, […] and they would have a schedule for washing them.”
However, this group would only be able to do their job if we do ours. A few years ago, being actively conscious about the environment was popular, but it seems now that the majority of young people find it boring. Rishika addressed this when she told me, “It has to be a lifestyle change and it’s not really something you have to like to do or is uncool to do, it’s just something that is a daily responsibility. It should be second-nature.”
Climate change is one of the biggest issues that our generation is facing and, though it may seem like a small step, recycling properly can make a huge difference to the health of the planet.
The recycling program has not been officially removed, but if nothing changes, it will be, most likely along with our recognition as an Ontario EcoSchool.
Josh, a custodian at WCI, shared that his daughter attends school at Keatsway Public School, which is also an Ontario EcoSchool. He explained, “For us to go in there and clean out a classroom and the entire school, we’re bringing out less than one bag of garbage a night, right? That’s pretty impressive.”
Recycling properly is so simple, yet if we can’t do this, it means that we aren’t capable of executing the simplest of environmentally-friendly tasks, which, as an EcoSchool, we should be able to accomplish.
The recycling program isn’t strong and, while all of the accountability shouldn’t be placed on the student body, we must work with the administrative staff, custodians, teachers and Environment Club to make our school clean and environmentally responsible again.
We may excel among the region in athletics, arts, and academics but, as Rishika pointed out, no other schools seem to struggle with recycling as much as ours does.
Hopefully, these new recycling bins will be installed and properly labelled, a team put together, and a schedule adhered to. Once this happens, it should be easier for students to sort their recyclables properly, as long as we take an extra second to think carefully about what we’re throwing away.
It couldn’t be more simple. Let’s become the EcoSchool we claim to be again and recycle properly, before WCI loses touch with its green thumb for good.