EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - As demand for immediate climate action rises, East Brunswick may join the ranks of many communities nationwide banning single-use plastic bags and straws as soon as 2020. For East Brunswick High School, such a ban could bring dramatic changes.

According to the EBHS Student Handbook for the 2019-2020 school year, recycling is mandatory for all students and staff. The cafeteria, classrooms, and offices all have recycling. Everyone must place white paper, newsprint, computer paper, and aluminum cans in the appropriate places.

“The Facilities Management Department has provided separate trash and recycling containers in all instructional and non-instructional areas of the building,” Gerald Schenck Jr., Director of Facilities Management, said. “Staff and students are required to use the appropriate disposal containers provided.”

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 But many, according to former East Brunswick High School head custodian Robert Rider, do not take the initiative. “I can tell you that the majority of students do not recycle,” Rider said.

 Enforcing recycling policies, both in the lunchroom and around the building, play a major role in making a school truly sustainable. And in the Cafe, students are still offered Styrofoam trays, plastic straws, and plastic utensils. Students are “encouraged to recycle,” according to Joseph Crotchfelt, Director of Finance of East Brunswick Schools. Crotchfelt added that he did not know the “recycling habits of students.” However, many students themselves have been taking notice.

Last year, Max Frederick, the current SAVE (Students Against Violating the Environment) President at East Brunswick High School, made a petition to ban single-use plastics in East Brunswick Public Schools on Change.org, gathering 1,267 signatures to-date. “I personally haven’t seen too much of a difference in recycling within the high school,” Frederick said regarding current improvements. “I still have staff telling me that they don’t really recycle whenever I go out of my way to find a recycling bin.”

“I do believe students at EBHS recycle when they have the opportunity to,” Sarah Levin, a Junior at the high school, said. “But not all places in school, such as the cafeteria, have proper recycling and compost stations, so everything is inevitably thrown away into the garbage.”

Unfortunately, compost stations are not currently a possibility. “Child Nutrition tries to minimize food waste as much as possible by producing food based on historical data,” Crotchfelt said. “But we do not have the facilities to compost.”

“We’re always provided with plastic utensils at lunch, and drinks are always in plastic or Styrofoam containers,” another Junior, Diana Yu, said regarding sustainable options in the lunchroom. “Honestly, the school hasn’t done much of anything to change what we use.”

The new addition of Lenovo laptops for each student this year has resulted in a significant “reduction in paper-use,” according to Doctor Michael Vinella, Principal at EBHS.

With such a transition, electronic waste also becomes a concern, but staff are doing their best to re-use and repurpose all technology. Students no longer use the Chromebook devices at the high school. They have been “repurposed” at Churchill Junior High School and Hammarskjold Middle School, where they will be used until no longer functional. “Once these devices are no longer usable, we dispose of them with organizations that follow federal and state recycling regulation for electronic equipment,” Nick LaTronica, Chief Information Officer of East Brunswick Public Schools, said.

 The East Brunswick Administration’s possible ordinance, which would focus on the elimination of disposable plastic, is part of their working toward an “environmental sustainability certificate” from Sustainable Jersey, according to student representatives of the East Brunswick Green Team. Their video, featured on the East Brunswick Plastic Ban Flyer, is titled “East Brunswick It’s time to go green” on YouTube. The video noted the plastic ban would also work toward “making East Brunswick a more sustainable community.”

 The young representatives in the video, worried about the Styrofoam lunch trays in their school cafeteria at Warnsdorfer Elementary School, were invited by Mayor Cohen to the Green Team after writing a letter expressing concern. Thanks to them, there should soon be eco-friendly school lunchroom alternatives and steps “to replace plastic containers used in lunch service with paper bags.” Styrofoam trays should also be replaced with more sustainable options.        

  Such changes, according to Frederick, have indeed made their way to the high school. “I’ve noticed a massive increase in compostable trays and food containers, which is undeniably better than what we had last year,” he said.

  As for the plastic ordinance, to Frederick, it’s a step in the right direction. “However, I think that it definitely has its defects,” he noted. “The definition of single-use plastic bags does not exactly encompass everything that comes to mind when referring to them.”

  “Sustainability in a school really comes down to reduction of consumable items like plastic cutlery, straws, bags, and the like,” said Mr. Kosinski, advisor to SAVE club at East Brunswick High School. EBHS SAVE Club is an organization dedicated to East Brunswick’s environment and learning how to be more sustainable, both at home and at school. “It is a great idea to bring your own cutlery to school, or invest in some telescoping chopsticks that you can carry on your keychain…foregoing a straw is often a helpful measure,” he advised students. “Recycling is very important in the short term, but the overarching theme is reduction of waste on the onset with responsible products and companies.”