Something Smells: Investigating Wilson’s Culture of Waste


Photo by Aidan Feeny

Ava Nicely and Madelyn Shapiro

Think about all the paper you use throughout a single day of school. Think about the food and plastic that you throw away at lunch. Think about the drinks and tissues carelessly tossed into the recycling bins.

Every day, 1,500 gallons of trash are produced by Wilson students and faculty, overwhelming the compactors in the building and the custodial staff, which only escalates environmental concerns.

With roughly more than 2,000 students and faculty in the building, it’s not surprising how much trash is generated. “The trash is substantial, we fill [the compactors] up at least twice a week,” said Custodial Day Foreman James Lewis. Student activities at Wilson generally last from early in the morning to late at night, meaning there’s a constant abundance of trash. As a result, the custodians are “dealing with trash, generally from about 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every single day,” according to Lewis.

The majority of the waste at Wilson is created by disposal of food and paper. Two recent initiatives seek to combat this trash production through recycling and composting.

Before recycling, however, the first step in reducing the trash in the compactors is simply cutting down on the waste produced, according to Wilson science teacher and environmental advocate Dani Moore. Some teachers have begun to reduce their paper use by creating class sets of worksheets and printing double-sided.

The second best step in reducing waste is to reuse. Moore explained that she does this through using the backsides of papers that she “rescues” from the copy room for notes quizzes and warm up activities.

As the AP Environmental Science (APES) teacher, Moore has taken on a leadership role in Wilson’s sustainability efforts. She outlined three goals that she has to make Wilson more environmentally friendly: an effective recycling program, awareness of waste reduction, and a strong composting initiative.


Beyond students who participate in recycling club voluntarily, the group is composed of APES students who receive a grade for their work and National Honor Society (NHS) members who receive community service hours. With teachers generating so much paper each day, “the purpose of [recycling] is to give that paper an opportunity to be something else before it is thrown away, and also to respect the trees and the resources that were involved in making the paper by seeing what else can be done with it,” Moore explained.

One important responsibility of the recycling club is sorting through to make sure only clean paper is being disposed of in recycling bins. “We don’t have a good record of being able to separate [waste] efficiently in the way it should be,” Lewis said. He explained that food was making its way into the recycling bins, resulting in custodians being splashed when dumping it into the compactors. In addition to this being an unpleasant experience for custodians, paper that has come in contact with food or grease is no longer recyclable, completely defeating the purpose of the bins.

At a recent faculty meeting, Moore laid out several suggestions for teachers that would ensure recycling bins were not being turned into trash cans. First, she encouraged all teachers to place a cardboard box over the recycling bin that says “paper only” to make everyone more conscious of what they are placing in the bins. She also suggested that teachers put their bins somewhere less convenient, and to empty their classroom receptacles to the larger recycling cans if they become full before the recycling club comes to collect them at the end of the day.

Recycling has proven very effective in reducing the amount of waste in the compactors. According to Lewis, without recycling there would likely be two trash cans within each classroom, resulting in a much higher amount of trash being dumped.



Students’ failure to separate waste that should be going in the trash versus clean paper that can be recycled is emblematic of their general inattention to the issue of sustainability at Wilson. If more students were aware of how much trash is produced, they would be more motivated to change the current trend.

Currently, the majority of students have no awareness of the realities of Wilson’s trash production.“I think that if you’re not involved in the recycling club and you’re not me and you’re not a custodian, then you don’t think about, you don’t go to the compactors and see how full they are,” Moore said. “Right now there’s almost zero awareness about how much waste is generated at Wilson and I think if we increased just a little bit, I think people would pay attention more.

Lewis suggested having a program that would begin in ninth grade that would encourage them to take ownership in implementing correct and sustainable practices. As the initial freshman progress through high school, they would know the norms of recycling, leading to an overall reduction of waste in the building. He stressed the importance of having uniform procedures in order to effectively address waste concerns.



English teacher Marc Minsker has implemented a new composting program at Wilson

involving a 50-gallon compost purchased by the PTSO located in the rose garden. At lunch, students deposit all food scraps, except for meat or anything highly processed, into a specific bin that is later be placed into the compost. Through his portal on Google Classroom, Tiger Serve, Minsker is recruiting seniors who need community service hours to ensure that only compostable materials are placed into the bins. Each day at lunch the students place the food scraps into the bin and turn it, and after three to four weeks compost is produced. Minsker hopes to share the compost with the community garden in Fort Reno.

Minsker also plans to have seniors weigh the food scraps, which will make students more mindful of how much food they are actually wasting. Lewis expressed his support for the composting program, saying, “I think [composting is] good for the environment, good for the atmosphere around the school, and it teaches a good lesson, it makes you more responsible, and that’s what it’s all about.”