Sustainability club raises awareness, lowers waste
Walk around the Paradise High campus, and you won’t go too long without seeing a blue recycling bin. That in itself isn’t unusual at a school, nor is the fact that students actually use them. What’s noteworthy here is the group involved in the next stop on the trash train: The PHS Ecology and Sustainability Club.
Launched last year, the club takes hands-on responsibility for recycling, filling a need not met under the Paradise school district’s trash contract. Club members procured the blue bins, promote their use, periodically empty them and transport what’s sorted and collected to a local recycling center.
“This club really stepped in,” Principal Mike Lerch said. “I think they’re providing an essential service to the school, the community and even the world at large.
“It’s just a bad feeling when you see a garbage can full of water bottles. It’s a big difference when these blue cans are out there and kids are more trained to use them. I’d like to see more of the blue cans, but it’s a big project to manage them on a day-to-day basis.”
Anywhere from a dozen to two-dozen students participate at any given time. They oversee about a half-dozen bins—most next to regular trash cans—as well as classroom recycling. They typically salvage about a pickup-truck load every few weeks, much of it paper.
“We try to make it easier for people to recycle,” senior Jessica Munger said. “It’s not too hard to open the lid on the can next to you. People don’t [tend to] go out of their way, so we make it easy.”
The money they collect ($5 to $15 each trip) goes into the club bank account to offset the cost for projects such as fair booths.
With the impact they’re making, Lerch said, “hopefully this club can sustain itself.”
That’s the hope of Munger and Hayley Breed, founding members now serving as co-presidents. They took the reins from 2008 graduate Hannah Fugle, who came up with the recycling program and club as her senior project, and they’re grooming successors so the organization goes beyond their senior class.
The club actually has two sets of members: underclassmen and upperclassmen. Freshmen and sophomores have an earlier lunch period than juniors and seniors, so rather than meet every Thursday, underclassmen meet one Thursday a month. Science teacher Wendy Marsters—the club’s adviser—lets the co-presidents out of class to meet with them.
The upperclass meetings have drawn as many as 27 people; the average is between 12 and 20, depending on the sports season. That’s right, sports season—athletes compose a big block of the club members.
Breed, for instance, runs track and cross country, plays soccer and has participated in basketball and tennis. She’s a member of the California Scholastic Federation, has an off-campus job and serves on the district’s Superintendent Advisory Committee and Youth Grant Committee.
“We’re diverse people,” she said. “I wouldn’t consider myself a hippie person, but there are hippie kids.”
Like, maybe, Munger, whom Breed describes as a “vegetarian environmentalist.” (In fact, club mates make sure there’s veggie pizza for her when they order in for lunch meetings). “I’m the organized section,” Breed explained, “and she’s in it with a passion.”
Munger, the secretary last year, proudly touts the “serious array of people here, of all age levels. We have track stars, I’m a dancer. We have different-minded people, but we all have the same goal: to save our world.”
Added Breed: “I didn’t know half of these kids before, but we’ve all come together and are really good friends now.”
There’s more to the club than recycling. Members have made raising awareness their other priority.
Earlier this school year, they compiled 15 pages of “Green Facts” that teachers read in class as part of the campus bulletin. “I hear a lot of talk about them,” Breed said.
They’re set to paint a mural on a wall near the library on a Saturday when weather permits. Plus, they’re conducting outreach sessions at elementary and junior high schools around Paradise. Next year, they’d like to link up with peers in other districts, such as Chico Unified.
As the single comprehensive high school in a conservative-leaning community, PHS may seem an improbable place for a sustainability club. “Some people don’t want to care,” Breed conceded, “but most people are really involved.”
Indeed, Munger said, “I haven’t heard any negativity, which I’m thankful for. There’s always a little cynicism when you’re trying to do a good thing, but people are on our side.”