By Vicky Gao.
After a timid knock on the door, bright faces peek in. Helping hands pick up the green recycling box, filled to the brim with paper assignments, stressful tests, and rough drafts. A friendly smile, a “how are you doing?” as the students walk out the door, emptying the cascade of paper into the gigantic blue bucket that stands four feet tall. A happy, toned-down rumbling as the crew traipses down the hallway to the next classroom, the bucket in tow on a cart that is a constant companion throughout the week. This routine occurs three days a week around the school, but the destination of the paper may change in the coming months.
The City of Abilene’s contractor, Texas Metals and Recycling Co., is no longer accepting paper and cardboard recycling as of February, reportedly due to financial reasons and a depressed market for recycled materials. The Abilene City Council is on the hunt for a possible solution, having released statements that they have already been contacted by potential companies. This will not affect the PALS students’ program of collecting bins of paper from classrooms all throughout the campus, though the program remains optimistic that the roughly 250 pounds of paper collected weekly on the AHS campus will not be added to the rapidly growing landfill.
“I hope that the City of Abilene will sort out a contract, because I see the impact for our environment and how much we pick up with just one campus in one week,” PALS teacher Brenda Andress said. “So I when I think of the entire city, environmentally speaking, it would be detrimental if we end all recycling. They’ve already ended glass and plastic recycling.”
But there is still some time for change to happen. Andress said that the enormous recycling bin that stands behind the school is emptied about three times a year. It was just emptied before winter break, giving the pounds and pounds of paper piling up slowly but surely about two months before their inevitable leaving – to the landfill or recycling facility, that is still to be determined. If an executive decision is not made, Abilene High’s voice will not go unheard.
“Already I’ve had some teachers approach me and say, ‘let us know because we would like to contact the city and have students write letters to the city; our campus alone recycles a whole lot of paper.” Andress said. “And our [PALS] students probably would be in on that also.”
This program does not just do wonders for the environment, it provides PALS students with opportunities to learn crucial skills like teamwork, communication, following directions, and giving them a way to connect with teachers and staff alike.
“As far as curriculum for our students, I’d be sad if we didn’t have any recycle routes to pick up,” Andress said. “It’s a job skills class; they have to work together to navigate who goes in the room and who opens the door, who’s pushing the cart, who’s emptying. As the year progresses, I try to give them a little more autonomy, and they’re getting faster and faster on the route. The second part of the program is our students are able to have a lot of connections in the school. They learn the school, they learn the teachers, they see other students. When we go in, we try to be very quiet, in and out, but the teachers still interact and show them their appreciation. So I think it’s good for the morale and the culture of the school.”
Lilliana, a sophomore who conducts a recycling route, was excited to say that her favorite job to do is push the cart that tows the recycling bucket that fills as they go on their route around the campus.
“It is very fun,” Lilliana said. “ I get to meet new teachers.”
Teachers all over campus are interested in this big change and what this means for our city, and optimism for a new contractor remains high.
“We’ve just got to get into contact with other companies – we’ve got to recycle,” AP environmental science teacher Sandra Henry said. “I think we’re going to find a way for paper. Everything I’ve heard so far has been fairly positive.”
The reaction among students could not be more of the opposite. Seniors Jane Anne Carrol and Katie Blair asserted that it really feels like the city has given up and that we are moving in the wrong direction.