An Investigation Into Recycling Culture at Northwood

One of Northwood’s most attractive features is the beautiful land that surrounds it. We lay in the Adirondack Park just off the shores of Mirror Lake and Lake Placid, surrounded by luscious forests of evergreen and deciduous trees. It’s no surprise people flock from all places to hike the gorgeous mountains and swim in the lakes, as they are truly a gem of the natural world. The experience students receive from Northwood’s Adirondack setting demands that we should be a standout leader in sustainability, so one would expect us to emphasize preservation of the beautiful environment we reside in.

recyclingNorthwood school participates in zero-sort recycling, a system that allows for easier disposal of recyclables for users, resulting in more products being recycled as opposed to thrown away. Recycling bins are stationed in every dorm hall, dorm room, classroom, and public area. This enables students to sort their materials more easily, promoting more eco-friendly waste production.

Despite the ease of recycling and the plentiful opportunities, these bins often remain empty or are used for trash, as people may not use them or sort out the material they put in the recycling bin. For example, recently the zero-sort bin in Mr. Roy’s room, where biology is taught, had biological waste in it from his class, while his trash bin had many recyclable papers in it. The large bins in the student center suffer a similar fate: despite each one having plenty of room for waste, the recycling bin remained empty for two days (while the trash bin filled with recyclables and trash), until it eventually had cardboard and an apple core tossed into it.

Non-recyclable contaminants in recycling bins cause impurities in the final product, making the recycled materials unsuitable for use.

This poor recycling behavior is probably not a result of students not caring about the environment. The students at Northwood come from a wide variety of backgrounds, both cultural and economic. While some cultures and communities recycle extensively, many others barely promote recycling, and some do not include it at all. Students who have grown up not recycling would not realize the necessity to separate trash into two groups. In order to improve the rate at which people sort their waste, it is necessary to emphasize recycling to children before high school. Northwood cannot influence upbringing, but we can help educate people on how to do it now, even if they had never been taught beforehand.

Some teachers, like Mr. Eaton, the head of sustainability club and the AP Environmental Science teacher, seek to educate students about these important matters. But one or two teachers is not enough. To truly improve, as Mr. Eaton suggests, Northwood needs more adults who are engaged in sustainability by publically modeling eco-friendly behavior. Some faculty members engage in this privately, for example recycling their waste and using eco-friendly transportation, but few teachers actively push for their students to have greener habits.

“There are tons of students that don’t recycle, and tons of faculty that don’t recycle,” Mr. Eaton said. “It’s not really at the front and center of our community.” The education of these topics can be helped from outside sources as well, such as with alumni like Mike Richter ‘84 or groups such as the alliance of climate education (ACE) or Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Helping students learn about the significance of recycling and other sustainability matters they may not have been educated on, can help promote a greener culture at Northwood. If people understand the impact they have in the simple act of throwing an apple in a recycling bin, then the community as a whole can change to improve the sustainability of Northwood to help keep the beautiful environment that surrounds us healthy.


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