ORHS Students Participate in Trash Audit

Oyster River High School students got their hands dirty working with the school’s Sustainability Club in order to analyze the school’s waste.

After their trip to Vermont in December for the Vermont Energy Education Program (VEEP) conference, the Sustainability Club has started carrying out their plans to reduce ORHS’s use of single use plastic. The club members, along with other ORHS students, gathered in the multipurpose room at ORHS on Friday, February 14th, to conduct their trash audit, an official inspection used to observe and analyze the wastestream here at ORHS.

“The purpose of the audit is to establish a baseline understanding of our wastestream so that we can identify places where we can ultimately reduce it,” said John Bromley, advisor of the Sustainability Club and science teacher at ORHS.

Bromley commented on what the Sustainability Club is expecting to see from the audit by explaining that a lot of the plastic the club members sorted through was from outside sources and fast food restaurants such as Dunkin Donuts. The reason the Sustainability Club is conducting the audit is so that they can use the information they collect to “think about how we can improve how we’re handling our waste so that we can have less of an impact on our environment,” said Bromley.

The cafeteria at ORHS currently has a system where the students and faculty self sort their waste into three categories: recycling, compost, and waste. Pictures are shown to help people figure out what category their trash should go. The Sustainability Club’s audit is going to see if that system is working, and use it to help create a system where students can easily throw away their waste so that each item ends up where it should.

Sustainability Club member Evelyn Ashburner (‘22), explained why it’s important for the club to conduct the audit. “It’s important to know how our student body is doing on organizing the trash and putting it in the right bin because that can give us a gauge on how sustainable our school is and if students are paying attention.”

In preparation for the audit, the Sustainability Club collected trash samples from twenty different classrooms throughout the school on Wednesday the 12th. Along with the twenty classroom samples, the club members gathered samples from the school’s common areas including the library, hallways, cores, and admissions offices. The trash from the cafeteria was sorted on Wednesday the 19th.

On Friday the 14th, the club separated the samples into nine categories according to the type of trash such as paper and aluminum. “We sorted the trash in the black bags, which is trash that’s destined for incineration and then the white bags which are theoretically recyclables,” said Bromley. After sorting the trash into the correct category, each bucket of trash was massed and its weight was recorded. 

With the dirty work out of the way, the Sustainability Club is ready to start compiling the data and analyzing the results. Bromley talked about what the club will be able to do once they have a clear understanding of what’s going on in our school’s waste stream. “We’re going to be able to talk about the types of trash, how well we’re doing with recycling, and to what degree recyclable and compostable materials are being thrown away [instead of being sorted properly],” said Bromley. “We’ll be able to think about ways to improve the handling of our waste so that it is recycled and composted.”

The school’s cooperation is essential for the sustainability club to conduct the audit. Dean of Faculty, Mark Milliken, explained why the school has been working with the club.“A very basic reason is money,” said Milliken. “The more we recycle and compost, the less it costs. It’s good for the world, the environment, and it’s a great lesson for kids.”

The audit is only the beginning, and from here the Sustainability Club is looking to write a formal report breaking down and analyzing what they learned from the audit. The formal report will be written by Bromley and the District Sustainability Coordinator, Maggie Morrison, with help from the Sustainability Club. The report will be sent to the school board and administration so that the school can make adjustments according to the results collected from the audit. 

“I think it’s important for students to participate because if people aren’t aware of how much trash they’re producing, nothing will change,” said Ashburner. “It’s important to see the physical amount because you don’t understand how much that actually is until you see it.”