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"Langley Middle School dumpster dive yields recyclables, compostables"
"Danny Shivers (right) and Tyler Gile (center) sort through a pile of wet, milk-soaked garbage pulled from the dumpster at the Langley Middle School. The students separated the garbage into piles of recyclables, compostable material, and garbage to determine how the school can better dispose of its waste.Matt Johnson / staff photosFor anyone who has ever wondered what happens to garbage after it gets thrown into the trash can, a group of fearless Langley Middle School students can give a lecture tour on the subject.About 20 students in the school's Adventure Education class got really personal with their own refuse Monday morning when they went dumpster diving in the 20-cubic-yard steel container that holds all the school's garbage. Along with staffers from the WSU Waste Warriors, the Island County Recycling program, and South Whidbey AmeriCorps, they were sorting the garbage to find out how the school could better dispose of its waste. Although the school already recycles its paper and a few other materials, the Adventure Ed students and the school's ASB want to send even less garbage to the landfill than it does now. More of it can be recycled, the students say, and quite a bit of it could become composted as fertilizer.Since the actual process of getting into a dumpster and pulling out trash is a bit dangerous, Waste Warrior volunteer Rob Craig pulled out dozens of bags of trash for the students, who promptly dumped the contents on plastic tarps. As the garbage slid from each bag, the same sounds could be heard as it hit the ground.Plop!Squish!Eeeeeeuu!Soaked with milk, pop, juice, and other, less identifiable liquids, the school's garbage was soggy, smelly and otherwise uninviting. But the students dove in anyway, pulling out paper, aluminum cans, plastics, milk cartons, and even the occasional piece of clothing or unused notebook. From time to time came an excited cry of Look what I found, indicating that there was something unusual in the garbage, like broken barbells from the weight room or an egg beater from the cafeteria. There was also plenty of wasted food, from baby carrots to unopened cartons of milk. That did not sit too well with student Danielle Wilson, who interviewed the Adventure Ed students for their reactions to the dumpster dive.Wilson had a reaction of her own.It's disgusting, she said.Besides disgust, the other emotion the students felt while sorting their classmates' trash was disappointment. Student Danny Shivers said he and his classmates found a number of useable items, including that egg beater, two sweatshirts, and transparency sheets for an overhead projector. At one point, Shivers pulled a notebook out of a pile of wet garbage and discovered only one of its 60 pages had been written on.Look at all the paper, Shivers said. I could keep that.Adventure Ed teacher Susie Richards said the dumpster dive was a great way for her students to see exactly what they throw away and where the holes are in the school's recycling program. The class currently operates recycling bins in every classroom and in other parts of LMS. The students empty the bins once a month and have long suspected that they are not getting full recycling participation from the rest of the student body.But building a better recycling program is not the only aim of Richards' class. The students also used the dumpster dive to discover how much biodegradable waste goes into the school's trash. They were looking for bits of fruit, cheese, vegetables, soiled, wet napkins, and anything else that would rot quickly in the right environment. If they can get enough of the stuff and separate it from the rest of the garbage in the school cafeteria, they will compost it.We're finding out how much organic stuff can go in a worm bin, said Ryan Westler, a member of the class.LMS principal Greg Willis, who helped with the garbage sorting, said it was sad to see so much good food thrown into the trash. He was also confronted with another waste problem when the Adventure Ed students began piling up hundreds of disposable, Styrofoam lunch trays found in the garbage bags. Used daily at lunch time, the Styrofoam trays replaced washable trays years ago, saving the school the cost of dishwashing staff and of buying and replacing the washable trays. Willis said a sixth-grade student is researching options for replacing the Styrofoam with something more permanent. In the meantime, he said, the school has plenty of waste issues to deal with based on the garbage he sorted through.It's pretty amazing to see it all in one place, Willis said.Jerry Mingo, director of Island County's recycling program and one of the organizers of the dive, said the dumpster did not yield some of the things he expected. He said he was surprised to find such a high percentage of actual garbage mixed with few recyclables. What that means, he said, is that the school's students are already doing a good job of recycling. He noted that students and school staff could improve their recycling efforts in the area of mixed-waste paper -- which is anything that is not white ledger paper.If enough of this paper can be removed from the garbage stream, Mingo said, the school could save some of the $88 per ton it pays to have its garbage hauled to a landfill.Susie Richards said LMS students and staff have a hard time sorting out ledger paper and mixed waste paper. She said her class will have to help them learn the difference.A lot of people just don't understand, she said.The results of the dumpster dive will be compiled by the Adventure Ed class, then used to design a waste-reduction program. The class plans to place more recycling bins in classrooms, give peer recycling and consumer education seminars, and build a 6-foot-long worm bin to remove some of the compostables from the school's dumpster.Mingo said he and Waste Warriors director Janet Hall plan to do dumpster dives at the primary and intermediate schools. They will also do a dive at the high school if so requested. "