Time to Take Out the Trash


Illustration Credit: Sydney Fener

Editorial Board

Empty plastic containers, half-empty water bottles, broken paper cups and an unidentifiable sticky residue line the tables on the quad as wasps crowd around in search of chicken scraps. Only a handful of students remain, most sitting alone and working. The maintenance and cleaning crew moves around the tables, attempting to clear out the abandoned trash before class ends and the swarm of students returns. The unsavory scene is completely at odds with our school’s image, yet it is the sad reality about the Quad after lunch. Students move onto their next classes without a care in the world for the litter left behind. Countless people have criticized our school for raising entitled students who do not appreciate their privilege. If we continue down this road, these critiques will be proven correct.

The trash itself is disgusting, but it also represents a gross lack of perspective. We have the opportunity to attend a school that offers a good education and a safe and beautiful campus. We have endless resources available to us, from spectacular arts and science facilities to alumni connections and personalized college counseling. We are well-prepared for all of our future endeavors. 

The easiest way to show our gratitude and appreciation is to pitch in and take care of our campus. During our 50-minute lunch period, the cafeteria churns out high-quality meals for all students in line. Rather than being grateful for this convenient and delicious food, we disrespect our school by leaving trash behind. Throwing away garbage is a quick and easy task considering the myriad of trash cans around campus. It requires practically no effort, yet students are still so entitled that they cannot even bother to do it. 

Students’ apathy has resulted in wasp infestations, cluttered tables and extremely difficult jobs for our maintenance staff. They work tirelessly to keep our campus clean and safe, but they are not capable of scrubbing down every table between each and every period of class. We are learning that the world will dote on us and that we are not responsible for taking care of ourselves. Worse, we are becoming the entitled, spoiled children that popular stereotypes suspect we are.

Students may be used to being cleaned up after at home, but the outside world will not afford us that luxury. It should be instinct for us to throw away our trash at the end of a meal. The fact that we need reminders to complete this basic task shows that we are sorely lacking perspective and consideration for others. It is incredibly disheartening to watch maintenance spend hours each day picking up stained napkins and half-eaten bowls of food. If we want to mature in high school, we can start by cleaning up after ourselves. 

Not only does littering reflect badly on the school community and our values, but it also has a larger global impact that we cannot ignore. It is estimated that over 29 million metric tons of plastic enters the environment each year, according to the Pew Research Center. Most of the trash we leave behind will eventually make its way into the ocean and harm wildlife. Plastic marine debris affects at least 267 species globally because of entanglement and toxicological effects of animals ingesting plastic, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Our lunchtime littering only makes these problems worse.

Considering the harmful impact of litter on our environment, we upper school students have an obligation to lead younger students by example. The severity of this mess has already prompted Head of Upper School Beth Slattery to begin a Nov. 11 assembly by asking students to clean up after themselves. Slattery reprimanded students, stating that if the littering problem does not end, we will lose coveted cafeteria treats such as cookies, ice cream and boba drinks. That type of announcement may be necessary for middle school students, but the Upper School has students as old as 18. Are we really this immature? Do we need to be coaxed into learning basic manners? 

The student body’s littering problem has worsened significantly since the start of the school year. It seems we have forgotten how to care for our campus and the environment in our quarantine-induced period of social isolation. 

The seniors were present on campus two years ago when students threw away more of their trash—it is our responsibility to set this example, and students in lower grade levels must begin to follow suit. For the sake of our personal growth, the people around us and the school’s maintenance staff, we must do better.