Extinction on the dumpster horizon

“Sorry. No recycling today- no kids showed up.” That’s the email I read from the Environmental Club adviser just before I left school today. Those eight words alarmed me, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. When this happens, the only way to truly clear it from my temporal lobe is to “write it out.”

These environmentally concerned students work tirelessly to spread the importance of recycling. They come in after school, on their own time and volition, and provide the service of recycling for the entire campus. Now, these kids are wearing down. The people in my building need to beware: we are in dire straits. These “green” kids are on the verge of giving up.

No one is showing up to the recycling club. And it is no wonder. It is truly a thankless job. These kids bundle up all of the paper in boxes around the building, load up their carts, and haul the bales out to the recycling dumpster. They then have to schlep these piles and piles of paper into the receptacle, which is physically exhausting. For many students, sadly, recycling bins are synonymous with trash cans, making the papers within lined with food residue, old chewing gum, or perhaps even a booger or two. The volunteers still sort through this swill, with nothing but the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra humming under their breath.

This is not a pleasant job. These volunteers don’t get paid, and they  get little to no recognition. Their only motivation is in the hope that they are making the world a better place. But this hope, this ideal, is waning. With every bottle filled with backwash, and every paper bin filled with snotty tissues, their motivation dwindles. Who can blame them?

People have come to rely on these volunteers. In fact, in a previous school, I’ve seen folks become enraged when no one came to collect their unwanted paper. If the kids don’t show up to empty the bins, the bins topple or the recycling simply stops.

What happens when the recycling volunteers become extinct? Will we all come around to the idea of lugging boxes of unwanted paper to the dumpsters? Will we sort through the bottle recycling bins to sort the recyclable from the trash?

That email said this to me: we need to thank these kids. We need to appreciate them for their thankless work. We need to do our part to make sure that our bins are “volunteer ready.”

Who’s with me??