Owen High's 'Green Team' leads way to recycling

Paul Clark
Black Mountain News

Owen High School’s recycling program kept about 60,000 Styrofoam lunch trays out of the landfill last school year – a big part of why it was named an NC Green School of Quality by the NC Green Schools Program.

The program, an effort of the Center for the Environment at Catawba College in Salisbury, helps teachers start green initiatives and recognizes schools that promote environmental sustainability and stewardship. Owen High, awarded the NC Green Schools Program’s second-highest award, was one of nine North Carolina schools — and five in Buncombe County — to receive a NC Green Schools Program award this spring.

Part of the reason Owen High was recognized was for things Buncombe County Schools is doing system-wide. It installed LED lights at Owen. The high school’s new roof reflects solar heat while keeping in generated heat.

Its student-led Green Team stepped up the school’s recycling program and produced a video to get students to buy in to it. The team plans to use Instagram and other social media to get more students to participate. The recycling program is mentioned periodically during morning announcements. And the school has, for the most part, gotten away from using Styrofoam trays.

“We had to change that mindset,” Amy Hobbs, sponsor of the Green Team, said. The school got hard plastic trays, which means more work for cafeteria staff. “But they’ve been willing to take that on,” Hobbs said.

Green Team members Willow Scarbrough, Ross Turman, Joseph Nihart and Jasmine Bechle pose last year with some of the recyclable material Owen High collected.

The student-led Green Team is composed of about 10 core members, with many more students who are less involved. In the common areas, the team installed recycling bins for glass, plastic, paper and cardboard, milk and juice boxes. Each classroom has a small recycling bin.

Students have been “really positive” about the recycling program, Hobbs said. Many are recycling now, and the ROTC and the students in In-School Suspension help by gathering and emptying the recycling carts and bins. Owen High is now a model school for other Buncombe County schools.

The school started the program during the 2015-16 school year, but “it really took off” during the 2016-17 academic year, she said.  

“One of the big reason for teaching recycling,” Hobbs said, “is so that when kids leave school and are out in the world, they understand why it’s important to continue to work toward reducing waste.”

Summer Thoma, left, and Quin Ho check recyclables received at Owen High School.