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All Hands on Deck- Recycling at Livermore High


Livermore High School offers a comprehensive recycling system across all areas of the campus. Each classroom has trash cans paired with recycling. Nearly every outdoor and hallway trash can is paired with a sorting station for recyclables. The campus even has recycling stations at the stadium and is custom building stations for the gym as well.

Livermore High diverts paper, plastic, and metal through its recycling stations and is adding food scrap diversion to all its outdoor stations as well. There are also numerous e-waste stations, battery recharging stations, and other infrastructure in place to handle, reclaim, and process special wastes generated in programs like Auto-Tech and Computer classes.

To manage such a wide-reaching system, science teacher Stephen Bailey has found ways to engage students, teachers and staff from across the campus.

When the system was first developed, custodians were concerned that hauling classroom paper to the recycling dumpster would be extra work. Even though they would be moving the same amount of material, they explained, they would have to make two laps around the campus because their rolling toters could only accommodate one type of waste at a time. Mr. Bailey worked with the custodial staff to purchase rolling toters that could handle two waste streams allowing the custodial staff to move both paper and trash to the dumpsters in one trip around the campus.

The addition of sorting stations in nearly all common areas of the campus and every classroom presented additional benefits and challenges. Students are able to place bottles and cans in separate bins from paper or trash which allows the campus to capture bottles and cans for cash redemption, raising about $3,000 per year.

To manage this system, Mr. Bailey engages the various clubs, athletic teams and other groups on campus. They can sign up to handle the bottle and can recycling for a week at a time with a guaranteed payout of a check to their club for the value of materials collected. Typically, clubs take turns filling a dumpster with recyclables. Livermore High's contract with their waste hauler stipulates that the hauler will pay the school the CRV value of correctly sorted bottles and cans. Mr. Bailey passes these checks from the hauler directly to the clubs that handle the recycling.

Individual students can also sign up for the job, allowing them to earn their yearbook, prom tickets, and other costly school items in exchange for processing the bottles and cans. At times, Bailey uses TA's to pick-up any slack in the system or to help launch a new initiative such as food scrap diversion or rechargeable battery service.

Students and teachers alike continually monitor the system and work toward improvements. Mr. Bailey reports that after club members process the recycling, they become allies in the efforts to get other students to place items in the correct place. At one time, the campus was hit by a rash of vandalism by scavengers that broke the locks on the outdoor recycling stations. The solution? Leave the stations unlocked so they won't be damaged, but pick up materials more frequently to avoid losses to scavengers.

Other words of wisdom from Mr. Bailey

  • Start small and gain small wins along the way. Show early successes, and funders will reward with more recycle stations.
  • Talk with the Janitors early, and negotiate their loss of recycling dollars in return for them hauling less trash. This has been a problem, as janitors view students recycling as competition for CRV.
  • Keep a low profile, and let other people eventually notice improvements, "Looks good," or "...doing the right thing." They will be your allies.
  • See if Administration sees recycling/4Rs/Energy conservation as a high priority. Proceed, even though their response may be lukewarm.