Trash: Putting It in the Right Place

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By abby mohaupt Director, Green Seminary Initiative

My favorite place to hike is in Muir Woods, north of the Golden Gate Bridge and in Marin County. I love walking through the trees--old growth redwoods that reach up higher than I can see--and I love the silence along the trails. I almost always walk through the Cathedral Grove to stop and look at the place where the United Nations came to visit and to breathe out a prayer of gratitude for the park being set aside.

The park is about an hour and half from my home, and so on my way out, I often stop to get a snack at the park’s cafe. From my very first visit to the park over six years ago, I’ve been enamoured with how the cafe does two things.

First, most of the food in the cafe is locally sourced. It’s delicious, and my child-like heart is oh-so-happy to choose a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a post-hike snack.

Second, their waste system is stellar. They have bins for recycling, compost, and garbage. Each bin is clearly labeled and then examples of what can go in each bin are attached to the sign. Visitors can literally look at the object in their hand that they’re trying to get rid of, compare it to what’s on the sign, and then put the object in the right bin.

The signs are not fancy; they are clear.

One of the most common questions that schools ask me is how to help their community know what can be recycled and what cannot. The community is confused or doesn’t have access to the information in a way that sticks.

One of the most common stories I hear is that members of a school’s green team spend time sorting through trash and recycling after community events to make sure everything is in the right place. Sometimes this is a badge of honor, and sometimes it is frustrating.

At my own school, I’ve been known to go through the recycling and trash--rearranging and decontaminating the items in the bins--and most times, I wish that people in my community would just put things where they go.

Communities need clear information that help them know what goes where. Signage with clear language is good; signage with images is even better; signage with the actual items that members in your community will use is the best.

The easier it is for the community to understand the rules for waste management in your community, the easier it will be for them to follow those rules.

So, here are some examples of clear and easy-to-follow signs. Send us signs you think are great, too!