If you think it’s a challenge trying to teach old dogs new tricks, try convincing teenage high school students that it’s cool to place recyclables into recycling bins instead of trash cans.
That’s the challenge senior Sonja Jost, with the help of a small corps of like-minded recruits, is taking on at Hillsboro High School this fall.
“I’ve always been very eco-conscious, and seeing the massive amount of waste that used to, and still does, happen at Hillsboro High School, just broke my heart,” she said.
“I knew there were like-minded people like me here, so I decided to talk to them and see if I’d get some backing and support. Eventually it gained a little momentum.”
Jost first consulted Principal Clint Corby about her idea a year ago.
“I thought was a great idea,” Corby said. “I think anytime students can come up with a way to give back, obviously I support that.
“It’s one of those things where we had to work through quite a few details before we just did it,” he added. “But once we did, I think it’s been received well and more things are being recycle because of it.”
One of Jost’s early accomplishments was to create a support group of fellow students to help with the campaign. Her partners organized under the name, “Driven In Response to Suffering,” or DIRtS for short.
“The only thing we’re doing in the school is the recycling program,” she said. “However, the club itself is not a school organization. We operate outside the school authority.”
Seeing the need
Jost initiated the recycling project after a few years of observing the practices of her fellow students.
“There’s just things being thrown away from the vending machines—bottles, cans, that sort of thing,” she said. “But also from the school in general, like the cafeteria, which was throwing away tin cans and cardboard and things like that. Up until DIRtS came along, we only recycled paper and that was run through FFA—and still is.
“Those bins are in individual classrooms, depending on the teacher,” Jost added. “I just didn’t think that was covering enough bases—although it’s important and I congratulate Mrs. (Sonya) Roberts (ag teacher) for her efforts, which have been very good.
“But I didn’t think they were substantial enough to make a big enough effort on what we were trying to accomplish.”
An early success was the participation of the kitchen staff.
“I didn’t have to do any talking with them, really,” Jost said. “I just put a recycling bin in the cafeteria and they started putting things in there. Really, they’ve been fantastic.
“To Mrs. Roberts’ credit, they had been doing some of that already. For example, we have fruit and vegetables that come in giant tin cans. Mrs. Roberts has been recycling those and some of the cardboard things. I was looking more at the smaller items.”
So what are the smaller things DIRtS targeting for recycling?
“Our recycling center here in Hillsboro now has mixed recycling, which has monolayered (non-corrugated) cardboard, paper, aluminum cans, glass and plastic.
“Those are the kinds of things that can be put into the recycling bins here. However, the DIRtS members have to take it to Mrs. Roberts’ room, where she has larger recycling bins that she bring to the recycling center in the end—which is another tribute to Mrs. Roberts.”
Jost went so far as to buy three recycling carts at her own expense to use in three key drop-off points: the cafeteria, the vending machine area and the technology hallway.
Changing habits hasn’t been an overnight success, but she continues to spread the message.
“I’ve been nagging people for years,” Jost said. “Between reminders to individual people—like, ‘Hey, you just threw that bottle away, how about you walk down the hall and put it in recycling. How about that?’
“I also put up signs last year above the recycling bins,” she said. “I had (the office) run an announcement over the intercom, and just talked to people about it whenever I could. If people had questions, I encouraged them to come to me or any of the other DIRtS members.”
With the program underway for a couple of months now, what kind of grade would she give for her fellow students’ involvement?
“I would probably give them a C+ or B- —a passing grade, but not outstanding,” she responded.
“In fact, I still pick recyclables out of the garbage cans whenever I see them, and throw them away myself,” she said. “It bothers me to know that people will put their recyclables in the garbage when there’s a recycling bin a few steps away, or just down the hall.
“That’s frustrating on a personal level for me—however, it is understandable,” she added. “We are creatures of convenience.”
Jost hopes the recycling program will continue after she graduates this spring.
“This year, which is also a pending project, we are going to be doing some recruiting,” she said about her fellow DIRtS members.
“We’re going to set up a sign-up sheets around the school for new members,” Jost said. “Hopefully, we can find someone else to vote in as president next year, and who can carry this on after I and my other seniors have left.”
Even though the recycling project is an extra-curricular effort, Jost says it has enhanced her educational education experience at HHS.
“I have learned a lot about organizing people, and getting leadership and momentum with people,” she said. “It was a lot more hands-on than I thought it was going to be, which is a great learning curve for me for the future.
“I’ve also been impressed by how many people are actually interested in being part of this, and are like-minded in a lot of the things I wanted to do with this club.”
DIRtS has taken on other projects, such as volunteering at Main Street Ministries and picking up trash in the ditches along the highway that goes into Lehigh.
“Even if DIRtS does go under—which is a possibility because it’s a small club and doesn’t have a lot of footing here—if there’s no one willing to take over next year, then it kind of falls apart when I leave,” she said. “If that does happen, then I will simply be donating the bins to the school with the promise that they get used for their intended purposes.”