Out with the old and in with the truth: does D.V. recycle?

Karen Wang, Opinions Editor

I was told that DV doesn’t recycle in my first week here. After jokingly berating a friend for chucking a stack of papers into the trash, she laughed, then gave me kind of a weird look, like she was about to divulge some sort of secret.

“Hey, you know that we don’t actually recycle, right?”

I was shocked. The importance of recycling had been drilled into my mind since kindergarten and I considered it a necessity. I, like much of the student body, was also very quick to believe this claim. Now, only the former remains true.

My (somewhat) debunked belief was not blind, though; there have been countless times in which I have stayed after school and watched the waste from both the trash and recycling bins be emptied into the same receptacle. But, despite recycling being an extremely important issue, I was largely apathetic about it. It was easy to accept that our school doesn’t recycle, everything sucks and that’s life.

This past August, I decided to write a story about recycling, under the impression that I would  just quickly confirm that the school doesn’t recycle. After chasing this story for nearly the entire year, I have been forced to the frustrating conclusion that there is no real answer to whether or not DV recycles.

There are, however, some simple facts that need to made clear. First, DV actually does have a recycling policy, or rather, it follows that of the entire district, which has been in place for around 15 years. This program recycles paper, cans, bottles and other products that are typically recycled in a household and is consistent across all school levels.

SRVUSD Director of Maintenance, Craig Cesco, explained that the district supplies a white bin for recyclables at each school. It is up to school staff, normally the custodians, to place the recyclables in the bin. District employees then pick up the bin once or twice a week and take the recycled waste to a recycling station.

When I discovered this, I thought that I had my new story: that Dougherty does, indeed, recycle.

But while this policy sounds good, a problem becomes painfully obvious when looking into the oversight of the implementation of it. Dougherty administration vacillates between calling recycling a responsibility of the district or the custodial staff; the district claims that it’s part is just to set up the program, and implementation falls to schools; the custodial staff largely denies a problem.

Former Assistant Principal Megan Moilanen, who was in charge of facilities, stated that, to her knowledge, recyclables and trash went into the same receptacle at the end of the day. She then added, “But, can you check with the district? Because it’s really not the school responsibility. It’s entirely the district’s.”

However, Cesco claims that aside from picking up recyclables, recycling is school responsibility. He notes that at one point, the district weighed and monitored the recyclables of each school. But, it currently doesn’t and has no plans to.

Head custodian Sergio Hermilloso, when pressed, simply stated that he was not aware of the practice of putting all waste in one receptacle.

When this was brought back to Moilanen, she noted that it was not her responsibility to manage the custodial team, who was, in a turn of events, responsible for recycling.

Administrative disinterest and ignorance are frustrating, especially when the lack of recycling is such a pervasive problem, especially considering the general apathy that students have towards recycling. This manifests in students not bothering to put recyclables in the recycling bin at all. And when students do, my friend’s voice always seems to pop up: “Hey, you know that we don’t actually recycle, right?”

AP Environmental Science teacher Annie Nguyen, who has been outspoken to her students about the lack of recycling at Dougherty also weighed in.

“Definitively, I can say that recyclables are largely disposed as trash … It varies by custodian, but our custodians are inconsistent, so … I can’t make a definitive statement.”

I already knew this before I spoke with Nguyen. Because while I’ve seen many, many custodians dumping waste from the trash and recycling bins into the same bin, there have also been instances in which I have watched the two be properly separated.

Not recycling is certainly not the direct fault of the heads of the district, school or custodial team; in fact, it seems to come down to individuals and their choice whether to recycle or not.

There is also the students’ apathy, which hinders custodians from being able to recycle even if they want to.

Hermilloso noted that it is difficult for the custodians to properly do their jobs when students don’t abide by the recycling and trash labels, noting that custodians don’t have time to dig through bins and separate trash from recycling, yet ultimately stands by the idea that Dougherty recycles.

It becomes quite a chicken and egg situation, then. Do students not recycle because they believe that it won’t actually be separated, or do custodians choose not to recycle because students don’t bother to separate what goes in each bin? I can’t give an answer.

I can say, however, that like with the custodians, student actions are not even across the board. Some students have taken matters into their own hands. CSF has a program in which club members collect recyclables during Access. These recyclables are then taken to a recycling center for money, which CSF donates.

At the beginning of the year, the program was shut down due to a large, unsanitary buildup of bottles behind the school but has been revived. But, there are other problems, too. Students have called into question whether recycling volunteers take their tasks seriously or not, since their objective is largely to clock volunteer hours. The problem of a trash pileup hasn’t cleared up either, at least not with school administration.

A recent attempt to speak with Principal Dave Kravitz led to another administrator telling me that first, he was not available for comment, and second, to check out the “piles and piles of recyclables” behind the school and to report on that instead. I immediately went to search for this build-up,  but only found two bags of bottles. It’s unfair to say that this administrator was entirely wrong, because the past certainly shows logistical problems within CSF’s recycling policy, and maybe I caught them on a good day. But, it would be similarly unfair for me say that the CSF program isn’t successful, because I haven’t personally seen a problem. CSF Officer Jeffrey Khau, who heads the recycling initiative, has not responded for comment. So, CSF recycling exists, but is it effective? I can’t give an answer.

At this point, there is little I would like to do more than return to my original state of apathy. Chasing a story that leads me from answer-less question to answer-less question  is draining and discouraging. Even more discouraging is if I share that I’m chasing this story, I only hear, “Why are you even covering that? It doesn’t really matter.”

The thing is, my Journalism teacher (hi, Ms. Decker) won’t let me give up. And that’s good, because the other thing is that recycling matters. A lot.

We should make every effort to preserve the Earth for future generations. And, in the present day, this kind of rhetoric often labels someone as a crazy tree-hugger, but there’s nothing wrong with caring about conservation. If you think about it, it’s crazy not to recycle, not to engage in an action that — at perhaps some inconvenience — can significantly reduce material consumption, limit waste and protect natural resources.

For our school to maybe recycle and maybe not is endlessly frustrating. (For the record, my future recyclables will be making it to the recycling bin, just in case; yours should, too.) But, for those in charge to not seem to care about knowing or finding out is even worse.

So, back to the original question: does DV recycle? I can’t give an answer, but after all this time, I should be able to. What I can say is that an answer simply doesn’t seem to exist, but it needs to.