Recycling at SFHS: Is It Happening? 


Emmarose Martinez, Author

“SFPS is committed to minimizing waste, and maximizing recycling and reuse.” This is stated on the SFPS website’s home page. It is easy to believe that this is the case with Santa Fe High’s campus, but when you turn your head and see the trash-filled recycling bins, you begin to ask yourself, How much of our school waste is truly being recycled?

Fifteen years ago, SFHS’ recycling was in the hands of biology teacher Mr. Pitman, his Green Team students, and the district. Mr. Pitman explains, “I had been in contact with the district and had them put recycling bins across our school.” The recycling club would then go to teachers’ classrooms and personally pick up the recycling.

However, about eight years ago, the task was passed to the custodians. At the same time, two six-cubic yard recycling dumpsters were placed on campus, replacing the 90-gallon rolling bins that were previously utilized. It seems that the result of these changes is that recycling began to be overlooked.  

“Every SFPS campus and facility has the expectation that ALL staff and students should recycle,” states Lisa Randall, the district’s sustainability program coordinator. As you look around campus, you can easily spot the bright blue bins and recycling dumpsters the district has provided. However, multiple factors are contributing to why the recycling and trash are often being mixed and going to the same landfill. 

One factor in the amount of recycling our school collects could be the small number of custodians the school is alloted. An observation made by multiple teachers is that the staffing level has decreased. Ms. Noonan, who teaches environmental science, points out, “In earlier years there would be at least two custodians picking up trash throughout the classrooms, but now there seems to be only one.” 

Another factor is “contamination” of recyclable materials. A single sugary drink can ruin an entire recycling container, Lisa Randall said. “Getting students trained on what goes into the blue bins is a huge problem that we face,” she explained. “Custodians do not have the time to be separating the trash and food-contaminated items from the recycling bins.” Custodians are instructed to throw all contaminated contents into the bins for the landfill. 

It is a critical step for students and teachers to not mix trash and recyclables in the same bin. The rule is, “If in doubt, just throw it out,” meaning if you’re unsure whether an item is recyclable, just put it in the trash. If students and teachers put in the minimal effort to throw their trash in the correct bins, custodians wouldn’t have to throw the whole container in the trash, leading our school in the right direction for a successful system.