Reduce, Reuse, and Reinvent Our Impact

With a student and faculty body of over 900 people, Harvard-Westlake (HW) Middle School’s environmental footprint leaves a substantial impact. Active recycling amongst the school community, the reduction of unnecessary plastic and energy conservation is essential to improving our community’s influence on the environment. Establishing goals for the administration, as well as student responsibilities, currently needs to be a critical focus for our school as we move forward in improving our impact. Our school produces an extreme amount of waste, the majority of which can be reduced through certain actions of students and faculty alike.

“When I think about environmental issues that the school is involved in, the first thing that comes to mind would be trash and recycling and then energy use.” Head of HW Middle School, Jon Wimbish, said.

In recent years, the school has taken significant steps to reduce our energy usage as much as possible, but is always looking for new ways to minimize our impact. One of the school’s main focuses of energy reduction has been in water usage, an area that tends to produce unnecessary waste in the form of fountains, daily cleanings, and pools.

“When we were really in the midst of a drought…the mayor came out to say that we were going to reduce water usage by 25-30%, we at the same time made that same commitment, so as a school we looked at how we were using water,” Wimbish said. “We turned off the water features we had in the Senior Garden, and the water features that we had at the upper school that were losing water to the environment.”

The school has also started to reduce the amount of energy that we use daily in our classrooms. The lights are now on motion sensors and the air conditioning and heating are adjusted based on traffic flow to specific areas, during certain times of day.

The cafeteria has also tried to make improvements, such as replacing plastic cutlery with compostable cutlery, but in a recent poll, 40% of students believe that the cafeteria still creates too much unnecessary waste.

“We have a lot of bottled water on this campus…I’m always shocked at the vast amount of bottled waters, juices, drinks that go unconsumed…People take two sips and just leave it on the table or the ground…It seems incredibly wasteful.” Wimbish said.

Wimbish said If the students feel the cafeteria is wasteful, they should be conscious to make sure that they are not additionally wasteful.

With so much apparent waste, should the cafeteria even be selling individually bottled drinks? Clearly, an interim step of creating awareness and asking students to voluntarily reduce this waste is necessary. However, reducing the possibility of not recycling should be a school priority.

Theodore Tsai ‘24 believes the cafeteria can implement further changes to decrease the amount of waste produced daily.

“A lot of the plastic [not recycled] comes from the plastic cups we use to fill up tea or smoothies. I like the idea of using paper straws but nobody really uses them because they get soggy, deformed, and you just can’t really use them. If the plastic cups that are used to fill up smoothies were made up of something else like paper than I think it will make a better and bigger impact than using paper straws,” Tsai stated.

The environmental impact of HW should not just stem from the school and administration. HW’s student body also has a major role to play in helping our planet.

The plant manager of the HW Middle School, Richard Bogan, believes students have the opportunity to incite the largest change in our community.

“The faculty and staff do quite a bit of being conscious of recycling and making sure that within their classrooms or their offices they’re doing as much as possible to recycle the waste as they can,” Bogan said. “Unfortunately I don’t see that same response from the student body.”

In his mind, recycling is the most substantial change students can make. “There’s no difference when you look in a garbage can, and you look in recycling,” Bogan said. “The kids put [their garbage] anywhere.”

Currently, only 31% of students polled identify as active recyclers. “Each person needs to make an effort to try and reduce our environmental impact,” Gemma Ozturk ’25 said.

However, 63% of students say they try to recycle but don’t always due to the lack of recycling bins and the frenzy of passing periods. Students are aware of the growing issue surrounding recycling and are attempting to overcome the obstacles they feel are in their way. “I never really recycle but recently I’ve been trying to force myself to put in a little more effort for a greater impact,” Kiki Cooper ‘23 said.

Students believe there is more the administration should do to assist in the recycling efforts. The survey states that 40% of students consider the number of recycling bins around campus to be inadequate. However, Bogan feels a lack of recycling bins isn’t the issue.

“When you look at the lunch area during lunch and, all the garbage, on all the tables, that tells me that the kids don’t care,” Bogan said.

Recycling should receive even greater awareness efforts from the administration. “I feel like recycling should be more encouraged around campus, maybe with signs or during the assemblies,” Amanda Allen ’23 said. Piper Vita ‘25 agrees with Allen. “Harvard-Westlake needs to support the issue of recycling more than it does. Maybe at school assemblies or class meetings, we could briefly talk about and/or raise awareness with signs and posters.”

Both students strongly believe that advertising will help to grow the number of students who recycle and the administration can really have an impact.

The number of students who recycle is dwindling. Recycling is one of the few ways to reduce the amount of trash HW sends to the garbage dump each day, and therefore the main approach to reducing our environmental footprint.

HW has the opportunity to incite change in our school community and even beyond our gates. Through the students, faculty, and administration HW can reduce their environmental impact. It’s only a matter of years before our time to influence the future comes to an end.

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