Waste Not at Jesuit High

By Jennie Kuenz
Mar 20th, 2019

Claire McCarthy, Jennie Kuenz, Emily Keller, Erin Fitzpatrick-Bjorn are alumnae of Jesuit institutions and members of Jesuit’s Sustainability Committee. In this article, they share their passion about the environment by explaining how Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon is successfully teaching students about the importance of recycling.

Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon encourages students to bring their waste back to school. For it to be properly recycled, of course.

Four new collection bins are now available for students and their families to recycle used markers, oral care products, contact lenses and blister packs, and snack pouches. These new programs bolster existing recycling efforts which include cans and bottles, batteries, clothing, and unwanted lunch food. Jesuit works with Crayola ColorCycle and a New Jersey company called Terra Cycle to recycle items other recyclers won’t take.  TerraCycle recycles over 97% of the waste collected (by volume) and “uses only circular methods (reuse, upcycling or recycling) for repurposing the waste collected through their programs and will never landfill or incinerate your waste”1.

Recycling is only one part of Jesuit’s ongoing commitment to improve sustainability on campus and create a culture of care for the environment.

This year Jesuit adopted a new environmental mission statement in which the school further committed to “internalizing our sacred duty to be caretakers for all creation and good stewards of the earth, our common home.” As a part of this mission, Jesuit High has a goal of becoming a “zero waste” school in the next ten years. “This is a huge undertaking because it means everything we take into the school has an end purpose and an end life,” said Jesuit’s Director of Global Engagement and Sustainability, Jennie Kuenz, a physics teacher and alumna from the Class of 1997, who has headed up the recycling program.

Alex Guitteau, a senior, agrees. “Yeah it’s definitely a mindset shift. I think it has to do with your perception of when you throw something away, what happens to that.”

Jesuit High School joins other Jesuit institutions across the country in this year’s Ignatian Carbon Challenge which focuses on reducing single-use plastics. Students from Green Team, Jesuit’s sustainability club, have been meeting with Food Services staff to brainstorm options for eliminating plastic straws and condiments packets in the cafeteria.

Green Team will conduct a plastics audit this spring to quantify the number of single-use plastics that the school throws away each day. In previous years, trash audits yielded shocking results, which led to significant changes on campus, including increased awareness about food waste and the introduction of tri-bin recycling containers.

For students who want to learn more in a classroom context, Jesuit also offers an Environmental Science course for juniors and seniors. Student enrollment for this elective has more than tripled since the class was first offered in 2014. “Sometimes it can be disheartening to learn about environmental problems,” said Oscar Baudey ’19. “The good thing about this class is that we also attempt to find practical solutions to problems so we are not left feeling hopeless.”

“In Environmental Science classes, I see students connecting to real world issues and feeling empowered to make a change with the skills they learn,” said Kuenz. “I find it extremely encouraging that the efforts we are making will have a lasting and positive impact on our students and on the earth.”

Junior Elizabeth Kapellakis agrees that empowering students is a key component of seeing change in the world.  “If my generation doesn’t start fixing all our problems,” says Kapellakis, “nobody is going to fix it, now is the time.”

Environmental stewardship is a key value of Jesuit institutions across the globe. In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis wrote, “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to sincere love for our fellow human beings and unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”

How do we respond to this call and to the call of the 2017 Jesuit Congress in Rio to “integrate justice, faith, and care for the environment” in order to foster “critical thinking, political awareness, and social engagement” in our students (JESEDU-Rio 2017)?  Please consider joining Jesuit Portland to collaborate on a network-wide movement to go Zero Waste by 2025. Such a plan will allow us to respond to the Jesuit Congress in Rio and the Fr. General’s call to promote environmental and social policies in our schools, and it will save our schools money.

Contact Jennie Kuenz (jkuenz@jesuitportland.org) to join the movement.

1 https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/about-terracycle/how_we_solve

Jesuit’s tri-bin recycling station is located next to the TerraCycle bins