It’s taken four and a half years of dogged activism, but Beebo Turman is finally “cautiously optimistic” about the state of recycling in Berkeley’s public schools.
“I think there’s a ‘can-do’ attitude in the district now,” said Turman, a local activist who has worked as the recycling coordinator for Berkeley schools since 1997. “The first couple of years it was, ‘Don’t bother me.’”
Recycling began in 1995, with just one school, King Middle. Today, city officials who oversee recycling at the schools said every school in the system recycles “mixed-paper,” a term referring to paper of any color. Nine of 12 elementary schools recycle aluminum lunch trays. Oxford School recycles milk cartons and cuts down on waste by using real plates and silverware.
Individual teachers, custodians and parent volunteers at various schools collect bottles and cans and compost garden materials on a more haphazard basis, officials said. City of Franklin Microsociety Magnet School will begin recycling milk cartons shortly, they added.
Turman worked as recycling coordinator for three years under a grant from the Alameda County Waste Management Authority. She is now a part-time employee of Berkeley’s Department of Public Works and said it was a struggle to get this far — particularly at the high school.
“There has been very low morale with the high school custodians,” said Turman, who trains students and custodians and occasionally pays for supplies out of her own pocket. “They didn’t want to work on recycling. They saw it as another task to add to their workload.”
Judson Owens, general services manager for the school district, said that a heavy workload and a lack of custodial crew training have slowed the high school’s recycling progress. He said short-staffing has also played a role. Janitors are often out with injuries or simply don’t show up to work.
“Absenteeism is a real problem,” Owens said. “Out of 11 individuals, we’re lucky if we have eight or nine on a given day.”
Last year, the city hired a part-time employee through the