Trash Or Pass

A look into the Environmental Club’s accomplishments and initiatives as well as their plans moving forward.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Sophia Li

Most people know that climate change is a defining crisis of the modern era, affecting lives through food and water insecurity, natural disasters, and foreign relations, but a large fraction of those people may not know exactly how or why it matters. The next time you gaze at the black, brown, and green trash cans that line the hallways, read the bottom of the SU’s Weekly Schedule emails, or glance at the murals on the walls, know that you’re looking at Stuyvesant Environmental Club’s contributions to a fight against the climate crisis.

At the start of the pandemic, quarantine restrictions forced factories to shut down, people to abandon their commutes, and groups to conserve their resources. The Environmental Club was affected by the pandemic as well and, like other clubs, was forced to transition to remote activities. When it went remote, it began a new approach to their meetings, centered around individual awareness initiatives as opposed to the group work it used to conduct in-person. Senior and president of Environmental Club, Nour Kastoun has dedicated her time to environmentalism by starting with her community impact at Stuyvesant. “We focused on small things like tracking water consumption and composting. While corporations are to blame, not individuals, it’s still a good way to raise individual awareness,” Kastoun said.

Other than logistical challenges, the pandemic has posed real challenges to many of the environmental problems the club is trying to combat. Senior and Communications Committee Director Edward Oo mentions the recent power struggle between the issue of science and ethics. “Wearing masks, making more disposable (and thus COVID safe) products, etc. comes at the cost of the environment, but to the benefit of the people (slowing the spread of COVID),” he said in an e-mail interview. “As some people have lost their jobs, they may not have any choice but to consume products that may be less environmentally friendly due to a decreased income.”

In addition to the events it had, Environmental Club’s claim to fame at Stuyvesant remains its color-coded trash cans on every floor. “Although the Environmental Club doesn’t empty the bins (god bless the janitors), we do help manage their physical quality (lids, stickers, etc.) and also the grades above (which can sometimes motivate people to sort their trash),” Oo wrote. In comparison to other high schools, Oo believes Stuyvesant may have a leg up due to the trash cans. “[One] would hold onto an empty water bottle for hours, always checking every corner for a recycling bin, but to no avail,” he said.

He mentioned the overall awareness the student body has on harmful actions toward the climate from social media and courses like AP Environmental Science. To continue to inspire students each week, the club includes an Eco Fact in the SU Weekly Schedule Email. “I remembered that most people read the SU weekly email and we just reached out to them and they gladly included it in the weekly email,” Kastoun said. “I think it’s been working because people always send me messages about them.” One fact that gained traction was regarding the invasive species called the Spotted Lantern Fly. This fact was relatable to many Stuyvesant students as the flies are found in many parts of Manhattan. Many students sighted them at Rockefeller Park just down the block from Stuyvesant.

To further environmental literacy, the Environmental Club started its “Speaker Series,” where it virtually hosted environmental experts for anyone to listen in. Senior and Social Media Director Alyssa Choi talked about the club’s move to virtual, and the blessings that came with it. “Moving that to virtual opened up a lot more speakers and their availability. We’ve had speakers that aren’t necessarily from New York City or anywhere near us,” she said. Its first and second speakers of the year were climate scientist Dr. Tamara Ledley and ecologist Dr. Pacifica Sommers. “[It was] just amazing to see them interact with students,” Choi explained. “And also everyone asked great questions which really helps drive the interactive element between the speakers and the students.”

In addition to spreading awareness on environmental issues, the Environmental Club has continued working to make Stuyvesant greener. For example, it hopes to bring fresher food to the cafeteria, with its new hydroponics units, a gardening method of growing plants in water instead of soil. “One of the hydroponics right now is just a test run in Ms. Maggio’s room this year. We are just growing some lettuce and other plants,” Kastoun revealed. She believes the club won’t be able to incorporate all of the fresher food into the cafeteria this year, but it’s started a movement that may be fruitful in the future.

For a while, the club’s big focus was recycling, but there was a recent shift to work on combating environmental apathy, or a lack of interest in environmental issues. “I don’t know what really causes it, whether it’s just a lack of awareness or time to care or no access to the resources,” Kastoun said. “Stuy kids do care, we just maybe don’t know where to start.” The club has also upgraded the outdated signs above the hallway waste bins, planning to use the scraps for future art projects. It has also put up posters in bathrooms to encourage more awareness of paper towel use.

The club has made numerous notable steps in their cause, but Kastoun feels that the most honorable were the accomplishments within the club. “Something I’m really proud of is how we’ve been able to respond to club members, how we’ve made an active effort to communicate with club members, connect with club members and listen to them, and make the club more open and welcoming to everyone,” Kastoun said. With a growing community, the Environmental Club has found a way to make environmental issues more accessible to a wider community by inclusively educating the community on the safety of our planet, and the difference each and every one of us can make to preserve it.