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Midvale Journal

Mixed recycling pilot program proved successful in Canyons School District schools

Dec 01, 2023 08:58AM ● By Julie Slama

Abigail Slama-Catron and Sofia Moeinvaziri, seen here at Hillcrest High, implemented a pilot program of mixed recycling in three Canyons School District schools last year. (Lyndee McKay/Hillcrest High School)

Last year, then Hillcrest High School senior Sofia Moeinvaziri picked up the school’s paper recycling to place it in a recycling dumpster in the school’s parking lot.

“I’d take a cardboard box and then sort out the cans and any plastic because it wasn’t part of paper recycling,” Moeinvaziri said. “I knew there had to be a way to recycle that material at school.”

Unknowingly, her classmate, Abigail Slama-Catron, separately had signatures of students, faculty and staff and parents who have children at a Canyons School District school who wanted to introduce more recycling options. She was advocating that cause with District officials.

The two now graduates both belonged to Hillcrest High’s Earth Club. Moeinvaziri and others led the efforts in school composting. Slama-Catron had led the club to pledge to improve the environment through the Adopt-a-Highway program.

Both were championing for mixed recycling for the 34,000 students and 2,000 employees in the District.

“It’s a need in any community and especially people in my age group are wanting to recycle and help improve our environment, but some people don’t know how or there’s not an avenue to do so,” Slama-Catron said. “I wanted to make that happen.”

Once the friends learned they both were working for the same goal, they united. 

The result was a successful pilot program at three Canyons School District schools — Hillcrest High, Midvale Middle and Midvalley Elementary — which now opens the doors for the district to introduce mixed recycling in all of its buildings.

But it was an effort that stretched their entire senior year.

With advice from Chris Eppler, who then was the school district’s energy engineer, Slama-Catron reached out to see the interest of school principals. She also met with Canyons School District Business Administrator and CFO Leon Wilcox and then Canyons Board of Education member Steve Wrigley, who supported the effort.

“Abigail came to me after talking to Chris and she had quite a few schools that were interested, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be more work for our custodial staff to be out there sorting garbage and recycling,” Wilcox said. “I wanted to be green and efficient, but I didn’t know if it would be a savings for our district and wanted to learn that.”

After getting commitments from the three schools to introduce mixed recycling and finding student leaders or clubs to take responsibility for emptying the bins around the school, the district placed mixed recycling dumpsters in those school parking lots.

The impact was almost immediate, the girls said.

Moeinvaziri and Slama-Catron monitored the usage of recycling in the dumpsters, documenting its usage with photos.

“At Hillcrest, it was placed outside of the wood and robotics shops, so they used it quite a bit. It works well, especially in high schools because we have vending machines, and a lot of students would put their plastic and energy drink cans in there,” said Moenvaziri, who started looking into a contract with the mixed recycling company.

Slama-Catron said the pilot program got a slow start at Midvale Middle because the mixed recycling dumpster was misplaced, but at Midvalley it was an instant success.

“Midvalley had to change their bin to be picked up once a week instead of every other week because of how much it was being filled. It was surprising; I knew that there was a need, but I didn’t realize how fast that would be shown to me,” she said, adding that Hillcrest’s dumpster was “full every single time I looked. It was great to see that people cared and wanted to recycle.”

During the school year, Eppler retired, but the girls continued their effort.

“People were willing to even meet with us, and we were really pushing it forward. They liked our initiative and were willing to listen to us,” Moeinvaziri said. “I learned a lot about convincing people to listen to your cause. I learned promoting environmental sustainability isn’t enough to convince someone to support your program. You have to know the financial aspect of it because at the end of the day, for a lot of school districts, it does come down to money, and they are monitoring that budget closely. If it’s cheaper for them to just have paper recycling, then they’re just going to go that route. There was one school district that stopped recycling completely because of the financial cost that comes with it.”

She said the district covered the funds for the pilot program. 

“We calculated exactly how much it would cost and we found that there would be fewer trips to the landfill because students would put their plastic and aluminum in the mixed recycling rather than the trash. Plus, the landfill is farther away than where the mixed recycling was being dumped. We pointed out that it’s not only great for the environment, but it would be a financial saving to the district because less plastic and metal were being put in the trash. We convinced them and they said that they’ll move forward with it,” said Moenvaziri, who is studying engineering and hopes to continue to compete in public policy debate about environmental sustainability in college.

Canyons Director of Facility Services Matt Wolford said the girls answered their questions of finding the balance between fiscal responsibility and being environmentally sustainable.

“Some of our schools were already recycling paper and that cost actually came out of our custodial budget, and these ladies found a point of contact at each school to oversee the recycling in the schools to get emptied into the recycling bin outside the school,” he said. “We have recycling pickup once a week at 43 CSD (Canyons School District) locations for the ‘23-’24 school year.”

Slama-Catron, who now is studying environmental policy and working at her college’s sustainability center, created a video and posted it on Instagram to help educate students about the recycling program. 

“The video was entertaining while also being educational about mixed recycling in any of the schools. It has Hillcrest’s student body president in it, so students knew who she was as a person of authority as well as just having a more high school approach to recycling. It was designed to be fun, but the purpose was for them to gain knowledge about the recycling program and what could go in those bins,” she said.

Slama-Catron used the project toward her Girl Scout Gold Award, which she received in November.

“I have the passion for this project, because it’s something I care about. If I can be a force for change to positively affect the earth, then I’m willing to do that. I wanted to see mixed recycling happen and I knew I could do that,” she said.

Information about the project, she calls, “Recycle remix” can be found, which serves as a model for other schools and districts to follow.

“Mixed recycling is a positive step to improving our environment and people are willing to if they’re given the opportunity,” Slama-Catron said. “Now, there is a drastic decrease of stuff on the ground at schools as people put their plastic water bottles and aluminum cans into the recycling bin. It’s making our world healthier.” λ