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Sustainability strikes again, earth wins

Sustainability strikes again, earth wins
Susan Rosenlof
Sustainability program

Story by Reagan Graeve '24

Once again, Marian’s Sustainability Club is pushing the limits with new methods to make the school more environmentally conscious. Last year, Marian added the green composting bin to collect leftover food from lunch. However, at the start of the 2023-2024 school year, Marian welcomed a new bin to the mix and this time it’s bright orange!

The school purchased “two large orange trash cans and about $500 worth of orange bags,” Alecia Cotton, a moderator of the Sustainability Club and a teacher in the English department, said. One bin for the cafeteria and the other for the quad. With each bag lasting about two days, this should be a year’s worth of supply. However, to save on the cost of orange bags, cardboard boxes with an orange recycling label are in every classroom and office at Marian. Work Study students transfer the items in the orange boxes to the bin in the cafeteria to be recycled. 

But what exactly goes in the orange bin? We already have a trash bin, a recycling bin, and even a composting bin. Well, the orange bin takes plastics that can’t typically be recycled. That means you can now recycle your chip bags, candy wrappers, plastic forks, plastic grocery bags, and styrofoam. This includes anything that doesn’t have the 1, 2, 3, 5 or 7 numbered triangle. However, you’ll have to find the other bins to dispose of your food, liquids and aluminum. 

The recycling process heavily contributes to reducing the amount of trash going to the landfill, so much so that “one trash can is not even halfway full after both lunches,” Nick Miller said, a moderator of the Sustainability Club and a teacher in the science department. Before the orange bin, Marian had about two bins worth of trash on its way to the landfill after both lunches. 

At lunch, some students encourage each other by taking turns disposing of trash at their tables: “One person is in charge of trash, one person in charge of compost, and one person is in charge of recycling,” sophomore Kelsey Herrera said. She started becoming more conscious of where she puts her trash, even outside of school. 

However, there is no need to bring your recyclables to school, as the orange Hefty bags can be used at home through curbside pickup with your recycling. They are sold at Target, Walmart and most local grocery stores for up to $8. Pick up the orange trash liners from the store, collect your items, tie the bag, and set it in your recycling bin. They’ll go to a recycling center to be processed correctly. 

Since the plastic is flimsier than the other plastics in the green bin, it has to be recycled differently, too. “It gets melted down and separated through a process called pyrolysis. It’s essentially really high temperatures that cause plastics to break down,” Miller said. After being melted, the liquids and gas produced are collected to be used for other purposes, like making plastic lumber. This plastic can even be used as alternative fuel, reducing the need for coal or other natural resources.

Omaha happens to be one of the communities participating in The Hefty ReNew program, along with other cities such as Lincoln, Atlanta, Boise and Chattanooga. According to, it was created in 2014 to reduce CO2 emissions and the consumption of raw materials. 

Moving forward, the club is encouraging students to be more conscious of which bucket their waste belongs in. “What students don’t see is that at the end of the second lunch, sustainability board members go through all eight of the cans in the quad and the cafeteria,” Cotton said. If an item goes into the wrong bin, the school can be charged up to $60 for the inconvenience to the recycling companies. 

The sustainability members and moderators volunteer a lot of their time during lunch. The club plans to update Marian’s energy profile, improve sustainability in school traditions like Field Day, and they’re even in the process of creating a more sustainable transfer of student textbooks from year to year. 

“It’s really hard to have zero waste. We don’t need a few people living that way. We need about 80 to 90 percent of people doing what they can. We’ve made really big steps and it’s encouraging. We are still early in the process, but I’m looking forward to where it leads to in the future,” Miller said