The Recycling Verdict

Developing Productive Global Citizens by Building Knowledge and Character

This is the mission statement of RSU 21, and, according to our website, we are achieving this seamlessly. But how can we claim to create global citizens when student attempts at involvement in the community are denied? Yesterday morning, members of the KHS Environmental Action Team took time out of their school day to attend the Facilities Committee meeting at KES and present their plan for recycling. Although the majority of the members of the committee supported the basic idea of recycling, many were dismissive of the team’s efforts, citing financial and labor issues that were largely invalid. Frustratingly, many members of the committee didn’t even attend the meeting, which likely will mean further confusion and debate in the future. 

Kennebunk High School is a major municipal building with a huge waste output, all of which is currently burned. Prior to the pandemic, we did recycle, and we did have a decreased carbon footprint. Re-implementing recycling in our district can greatly reduce the amount of waste we burn, while teaching students about environmental concepts. This would show students that we can make a difference on a local level if we try, and it puts us on the track to become global and involved citizens. These facts make it all the more confusing when authority figures push back on student involvement, such as when facilities director Richard Terwilliger-Smith entirely rejected and dismissed the recycling proposal last Tuesday, leading to the arguments and discussion at Thursday’s facilities meeting. 

Thursday’s meeting was emblematic of every issue with the school board and other committees that students have faced in recent years. Firstly, the recycling presentation was pushed to the end of the meeting, not only cutting into student’s class time, but also not providing enough time for the proposal to be adequately discussed. In addition, many members of the committee seemed not to have listened to the presentation itself, expressing confusion and discontent about almost every aspect. Ken Levesque was especially dismissive of the plan, claiming that it wasn’t “like flipping a switch”, and that the vast majority of things needed to be reworked through the lens of Mr. Terwilliger-Smith, the same person who had claimed that recycling had no merits. Despite many conversations with members of the facilities committee, this seemed to be the first time that the school board had even heard of recycling in our schools, despite it being a policy at KHS prior to the pandemic. This plan is being burdened by bureaucracy, and even if it is approved as part of the budget, it seems very likely that it will not be implemented until the next school year. 

Last year, we were ranked the #2 school in the State of Maine, and frankly it’s embarrassing that we can’t even make the simple change of separating our trash from our recycling. In 1989, the Maine State Legislature approved a goal to recycle 50% of our collective waste, and we have never met that goal. It is our duty as one of the biggest municipal waste outputters in our community to work towards this. At most, it would cost a few thousand dollars a year, which should be really no problem considering how easily 4 million dollars was raised for the athletic complex. It’s time that we take a closer look at how we as a community can better serve both students and the world. 

If you are interested in making an impact, go watch the livestream of the facilities meeting, contact your school board representatives, and share this article with adults in your community. We need to demonstrate to our community that recycling is an issue that we prioritize, and if we focus on action over deliberation we can ensure its implementation in our schools.