I remember stopping in the ceramic mug aisle at Bed, Bath, & Beyond like it was yesterday. I picked up a mug and in bold, black, calligraphy it read “You can’t go home again.” The quote originated from a book title by Thomas Wolfe but was made famous by the country duo, The Judds. I carefully placed the mug in my cart and continued browsing the aisles.

I never thought about the irony of that quote until I saw the mug sitting on my desk this morning at Rubicon Headquarters.  I sat in my afternoon meeting with my colleagues as I sipped a medium roast. My co-workers were enthusiastically explaining their insights and findings from a waste audit done at The Weber School in Sandy Springs, GA.

The Weber School is an innovative and challenging high school with an emphasis on higher learning, creativity, and cutting-edge technology. The Weber School also happens to be my alma mater. I lifted up my coffee cup and laughed; I guess you CAN go home again.

As an honored alumnus, I owe a lot to my time at Weber. Equipped with outdoor classrooms, an emphasis on environmental science, and community service projects; I believe that my four years in the hallowed halls of high school sparked my passion for sustainability and was a crucial pit-stop on my path to my current role at Rubicon.

The importance of maintaining sustainable practices at Weber has successfully evolved since I donned my cap and gown in 2008.  Weber is actively working with Rubicon to improve diversion rates, implement recycling programs, and educate students about the importance of environmental responsibility.

On March 29th, a talented team from Rubicon went to Weber to perform a formal “Waste Audit.” A waste audit is an integral part of the waste diversion process. Audits reveal disposal habits (both bad and good) while simultaneously allowing the business or site to report and measure their successes.

The representative from Weber, teacher Ethan Arbiser, took the team through a thorough tour of the building with a focus on the successes and shortcomings of their current recycling program. In addition to the team from Rubicon, the audit enlisted the help of student volunteers to help further their environmental education and get their hands dirty (literally and metaphorically) on the front-lines of the audit.

The Weber School Rubicon Waste Audit

When I was a student at Weber, the 3rd-floor locker area was the epicenter for all of the action. The Rubicon team focused a lot of their efforts on the 3rd floor as well as the lobby level cafeteria. The waste materials at Weber are currently dual separated between MSW (municipal solid waste) and SSR (single stream recycling). The Rubicon team divided the waste material into five different categories: landfill, SSR, compost, plastic film, and TerraCycle. The separation illustrates the benefits of more conscientious source separation.

The team at Rubicon implemented the RUBICONMethod—its unique approach to help organizations begin a zero-waste journey—to outline how to maintain a successful recycling program for The Weber School in six simple steps. A familiar acronym, DIVERT stands for Determine, Initiate, Vocalize, Eliminate, Roll-Out, and Track. The RUBICONMethod, which can be downloaded as a guide, was created in partnership with Recycle Across America and TerraCycle. The RUBICONMethod was developed to help businesses and organizations understand recycling’s often confusing processes and translate ideas into tangible actions. RUBICONMethod Guide Thumbnail

To continue to get to where they want to go, the Rubicon team made some suggestions for the school that would move the needle concerning eco-conscious improvements. Weber can increase signage throughout the school to accurately relay the information to both the students and faculty. All locations of trash (or landfill) should have a partner recycling bin. Weber could utilize more recycling containers around the sports fields for plastic bottle collection during practices and games. In addition to these simple suggestions, Weber and Rubicon will work together to add more specialized recycling programs for hard-to-recycle materials. By pushing a standardized system of procurement, bin placement, signage, employee and student education and analysis, Rubicon sees potential to help The Weber School continue to increase their impressive diversion rates.

Always trying to integrate education and entertainment, the administration at Weber began a healthy recycling competition between the four different classes. The cafeteria is home to 4 large blue recycling bins with grade signage above. Students can win the competition by adequately recycling of papers, cans, and plastic in their assigned bin.

The audit showed a lot of the things that The Weber School is doing well. The current diversion rate for the average classroom is 91% with no contamination! The hallway has a potential diversion rate of 74%. The students are actively recycling their pre-consumer food waste packaging directly into the recycling dumpster.  The students are eager to continue to learn about sustainability efforts and what they can do to improve their school.

As I write this, I take a sip from the same coffee cup I bought months ago at Bed, Bath, & Beyond. I apologize to Thomas Wolfe, to The Judds, and to whoever manufactured my mug; you CAN go home again, and if you do, you just may be able to learn something.

I knew I wanted to write this article to not only report on the findings of the audit but because I am so proud of my alma mater. I am in a rare position where I get to work for a company whose sole mission is to end waste. I am in an even more unique position where I get to work for a company who is actively helping an institution that I hold near and dear to my heart continue to do good work for the planet as well as their people.  As a graduate of The Weber School, I am both excited and inspired by the work of the faculty and students to continue to learn and implement proper waste and recycling practices.

For the complete step-by-step guide to implementing a successful waste and recycling program, click here.