While most activities have slowed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ORHS Sustainability Club has done the opposite. This year, the club has created a greater social media presence, seen an increase in participation, and is continuing on with their initiatives surrounding compositing. They’ve taken steps to ensure they get their messaging out virtually. Through implementing news segments on ORTV, posting on Instagram frequently, and writing a monthly newsletter, they’re making sure to educate the community on sustainability in ways they never have before.
Sustainability Club was initially founded seven years ago by Jon Bromley, ORHS science
teacher, along with support from Maggie Morrison, ORCSD Sustainability Coordinator, and others. Bromley started the club because, “there is a need to alter our behaviors culturally around our consumption of resourc- es, our pollution, and carbon emissions. Students recog- nized that, so the club is for students who want to take the next step and take action to actually make a positive impact.”
While the club has successfully made our community more sustainable in the past, and will continue to do that, one of the most noticeable differences in the club this year is the great increase in interest. Bromley explained that last year, the club had between six and twelve core members. This year, there are about 30 students signed up. Bromley thinks this heightened participation comes from a number of factors, and said, “this year because of remote learning, the fact that students are engaging with the computer differently, and all weirdness of remote learning, all of a sudden kids are like ‘I want to do something. I want to be involved in something.’”
Another potential reason for this new participation is that they are focusing on their social media presence because “we’re trying to get the word out and get more people to acknowledge their own behavior and acknowledge the fact that they’re throwing away recycling in the landfill, or putting compost in the recycling bins and contaminating anything that would be going to those facilities,” said Aidan Covell (‘21), who has been a member of the club since his junior year.
Some of their members have been focusing on making educational posts and following people from the school to do just what Covell mentioned. Due to the activity on their social media, their presence has become more known, and more people have seen their posts. You can check out their Instagram page, @orhs.susclub, to see their work.
While social media likely led to more student involvement, others joined because “what makes Sustainability Club incredibly unique is that this is a real world problem and it’s a real regional problem and it’s a real local problem. Students aren’t just helping Oyster River High School,” said Morrison.
Heather Clegg (‘22) has been a member since her sophomore year, and got involved due to a desire to be a part of that change. “I decided to join because I wanted to spread awareness about the environment and help educate and advocate for sustainability within our community and within our school.”
Other students joined the club for similar reasons. Covell joined because,“I’ve always
been interested in composting and gardening and saving food and energy. I’ve always wanted more people to be involved and act like that. The group collabora- tion [is my favor- ite part] because we’ve been able to accomplish more things that way and I like the feeling of collaborating and sharing ideas with other people.”
This collaboration Covell mentioned has been key for the Sustainability Club this year. Another new part of this year is that they’ve split up into three teams: Instagram, ORTV, and the newsletter. While some members are focusing on building @orhs. susclub, others are creating informational news segments with ORTV, the school’s televised news network, which play in a video that the whole school views during weekly announcements.
Also new this year is a monthly newsletter. The remaining members of the club have begun sharing a monthly newsletter to educate the community members on their work and to advo- cate for change in sustainability. The newsletters cover what the Sustainability Club is, share informational blurbs, and detail their current projects. These newsletters are sent out to the community via email.
Social media presence isn’t the only thing that has led to a revamp of the Sustainability Club this year. In the past, mainly up- perclassmen were involved in the club. This meant they were fo- cusing on more one-year projects because many of their members would graduate, and then they would have to pick a new topic the following year. Morrison explained that, for example, one year, the group did fundraising to raise awareness for the Powder Major forest conservation project.
Another year, members wanted the club to go in a more politically active route, and attended climate walks and marches. The one year projects were valuable however, it
is exciting that their work this year can be a continuation of their last year’s work, because they can further build upon what they started with the younger members. “Not only has [Sustainability Club] grown in the number of students, but we typically always had mostly seniors and some juniors, but this is the first year we’ve had a sweep of all classes which is really exciting,” shared Morrison. She continued on to say, “[the club’s goals] have become more tangible over time […] Because we did a waste audit last year, we have something really concrete and measurable that we can work on. It can be a multi-year project as opposed to one-offs.”
As for their work this year, they’re focusing on composting. As Morrison mentioned, the Sustainability Club conducted a waste audit, which meant they collected waste over a two week period in the early spring of 2020. Their most telling finding was that there were approximately 7,000 pounds of organic waste being disposed of inappropriately. Bromley explained that most of that was coming from classrooms. Teachers and students are eating in the classroom and throwing food scraps away in the trash because there is no other place to put it. Currently, the only composting system the high school has is a composting bin in the cafeteria, which Sustainability Club implemented years prior.
Composting is essential because to put it simply, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and food waste. On a more local level, it’s important because “Oyster River’s waste doesn’t go in a landfill, it goes to a waste energy plant in Massachusetts, which means that they incinerate our waste and turn it into electricity which is all good, but, you’re putting food waste into an incinerator and that food waste has a much better use and can be turned into compost. It just doesn’t make sense to burn it when it can be turned into compost,” shared Morrison.
Clegg agreed with Morrison on the importance of eliminating this waste. “The first step in reducing compost waste is to raise awareness as to why composting is important and to educate on how to even compost. I think a lot of people don’t compost because they’re not educated on it, so I think us pushing all this information through our community members will really help them understand why it’s important,” said Clegg.
After this educational push through their various outlets, their future goal is to implement systems within the school such as composting bins in classrooms to eliminate this main source of waste.
If you’re interested in getting involved with the Sustainability Club, you can reach out to Mr. Bromley. Covell encouraged others to join, and said, “obviously, there’s this big overarching issue of climate change, and people are always afraid of it or don’t want to admit that it’s a problem, and we don’t have much time. If we can work together to try to change people’s mindsets about stuff, even if it’s just the smallest things, that’s a very unique opportunity.”
Images courtesy of Isabella Crocco and Evy Ashburner