Wheeling students spearhead campaign to reduce waste on and off campus


Like many, Andy Shover thought he understood how discarded plastic items impacted the earth.

But as part of an environmental science class this year, Shover and his classmates at Wheeling High School learned there was much more to the issue than they originally thought. They also realized they could play a part in improving the environment by educating their peers.

Inspired by their lessons in class, the 27 students are spearheading an educational campaign to help the school understand its part in taking care of the community and earth. Supported by a $2,500 grant from SWANCC, the Solid Waste Agency of North Cook County, the campaign focuses on decreasing the amount of waste by using less plastic and more reusable items.

“I hope students walk away with the knowledge of how to recycle and reuse,” said Shover, a senior. “The world is precious. We’re only given one and we’ve got to keep it here.”

The campaign kicked off in September with a garbage audit of the school to collect data to better understand how students and staff are using the trash and recycling bins. The environmental science class learned that that people did not fully understand what was and was not recyclable.

Soon after, the class, which already had secured the grant from SWANCC, began a campaign that included distributing educational brochures, selling reusable items, airing educational announcements and providing opportunities for students and staff to watch a documentary on the impact of plastic during their lunch periods.

The SWANCC grant will also pay for liquid garbage cans that allow individuals to clean plastic items before throwing them into the recycling bins to avoid contamination.  

“Our main purpose is changing the culture to awareness,” said Wheeling science teacher Mediha Abat. “This year’s goal, for me, is making as many students and staff aware what goes in the garbage is our responsibility.”

During lunch periods, students in the environmental science class have sold reusable water bottles, sandwich bags and stainless steel straws and spoke one-on-one with their peers about the impact of plastic items. Many of the reusable items sell out before the lunch periods end.

On a recent afternoon, students in the class reflected on what they have learned and spoke excitedly about all the ways Wheeling can help the community. Seniors Katie Meyer and Meghna Shukla have also discovered their peers are interested in making a difference.

“They care but there is a lot of education that still needs to happen,” Shukla said.

The environmental science students also created a ‘green team’ within Wheeling and recently met with District 214 leaders to discuss ways District 214 schools can play a part in improving the environment.

While the students aim to reduce the amount of plastic discarded, they also want their peers to understand what they have learned in their environmental science class.

“We’re trying to throw that knowledge out to the other kids,” said senior Luis Rodriguez.

Abat added that recycling is important but it is not the answer to most of the world’s problems because China has stopped accepting recycling from other nations.  

“We have to focus on reducing our waste first. If we choose not to purchase one-time plastic items, manufacturers will stop manufacturing,” she said. “The first step for this is being aware of the garbage we generate.”  

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