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The Garbage Picker This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


      As a senior, I havegenerated my fair share of garbage. I must admit that in my first few years ofhigh school I never really stopped to think about where it was all going, or whowas cleaning it up. One day two years ago, however, dramatically changed mythinking. On the last day of school, as I walked down the hall, I watchedwide-eyed as my fellow students grabbed the entire contents of their lockers anddumped it with a thud into the dumpsters that lined the hall. Paper flew in alldirections, dilapidated binders, smashed locker shelves, and aluminum cansdripping a sticky syrupy coating; all were being tossed.

That was theyear I became known as the "garbage picker." I spent hours rummagingthrough the trash, returning discarded textbooks to teachers, salvaging lockershelves, and emptying binders for future use. The act of sifting through thesebottomless pits left me with a leaden feeling in my stomach as I imagined thetrees being chopped down to supply our school's colossal appetite for paperproducts. I wondered, What can I, one meager student, do to change things?

The following year, as I again witnessed lockers belch thousands ofpounds of paper, trash and school supplies, I realized that one person could makea difference - one person with initiative. I began brainstorming and researchingthat summer and fall. I knew our school needed a recycling program. This idea wasforemost in my mind when I was asked what I would be most interested in studyingfor an assignment. I wrote out my recycling plan and one morning obtained a passto wander the building. I soon found myself at the custodians' office, my heartpounding wildly as my feet carried me in.

My footsteps echoed on the dullconcrete floor as I dodged the mops, trashcans, strange machinery, and toolboxesscattered from floor to ceiling. And there, the head custodian, Mr. Wolfe, foundme, staring like a deer in headlights. Now, he is a large, tall man, and Imustered my bravest voice to ask him to consider my recycling plan. Before I knewit, he was offering me a corner of the custodial room to sort my recyclables,cardboard boxes and four trashcans.

I practically skipped to the viceprincipal's office to tell her of my recycling plans. With her consent, I wouldplace a cardboard box in the library, offices and classrooms to collect papers,magazines and newspapers. I would empty those boxes into larger ones in thecustodial office. When those became full, I would take them to the transferstation, where there is no dumping fee, with facilities for a variety ofrecyclable materials. In the cafeteria, I would use the four garbage cans tocollect plastic bottles and aluminum cans. The custodians would recycle these forme at their favorite facility and use the money to benefit the school. I receiveda whole-hearted "A-OK."

That night I designed a dozenposters and on Monday I arrived at school early to begin hanging them anddistributing boxes to classrooms. I was met with a big disappointment, however -the night janitors had broken down all the cardboard boxes that had been saved. Atouch angry, I vented most of the day to anyone who would listen. I saved myposters and began searching for other boxes, but I met with limited success.

A few days later, however, a solution presented itself in a most uniqueway: my English teacher called me out of class into the new computer lab nextdoor, and before my eyes sat a mountain of cardboard boxes. I am sure there was agreedy gleam in my eye as I surveyed my treasure. These were the boxes that thenew laptops had arrived in, and they were the perfect size.

Eagerly, Icounted them and was pleasantly surprised to find 19, the exact number I neededto fill the classrooms in the science wings. I rolled my recycling trashcans tothe cafeteria, hung my posters, and triumphantly had the announcement made overthe loudspeaker, letting the whole school know they now had a choice for whatwould happen to their discarded papers, cans and bottles.

Since that day,recycling in our school has gone smoothly. I now scurry through the custodians'office lugging boxes, saying hello to the janitors whom I know by name. And whenI need something, I know where it is in their organized mess. I also find Mr.Wolfe much less intimidating!

I have acquired a steady supply of boxesfrom the printing room, the custodians, and BJ's Wholesale Club, and continue toplace them in rooms. Thanks to a suggestion from a fellow student, I constructedcovers for the recycling cans in the cafeteria. Unfolding a cardboard box, I cutout a circular cover to fit over the cans, amidst the lunch crowd who stared andwhispered about my curious behavior. By cutting out an opening large enough onlyfor a can or bottle, the recycling trashcans would be safe from lazy orunobservant diners who might throw their garbage by mistake.

The resultsof school recycling have been excellent! Money is being generated by bottle andcan returns, and students and teachers are taking active steps toward reducingtheir paper consumption to conserve trees and natural resources.

If justone ton of paper is recycled from our school, 17 trees are saved, 460 gallons ofoil conserved, and eight cubic feet of landfill space is saved. Every little bitcounts.

By working together, I know that our school has the potential todo much more for our environment. With many more ideas still swirling in my mind,the custodians, teachers and school officials have not seen the last of me.

In the future, I hope that students in our school will be able to findflowers on school grounds, birdhouses in our trees and a compost pile of organicnatural waste becoming rich fertilizer. To implement these goals, I hope tolaunch the Green Club to promote earth-friendly activities, with my scienceteacher as advisor.

On Earth Day each year, a tree could be planted bythe club near the island of forest in our playing fields. In addition, it wouldalso be a great achievement for the Green Club to construct birdhouses and bathouses to encourage wildlife to flourish and settle on school grounds, allowingscience classes to study and observe.

As this recycling projectprogresses, I will continue searching for ways to improve it, both at school andin my own life, to protect my favorite place - the earth. With endlesspossibilities, my search has only begun!

Have you considered what youcould do?


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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