Sheldon High School Recycling Gang

Junior Kellen De Kok begins closing up the ends of a trash bag after he and other students in his recycling group finish sorting through recycled items at Sheldon High School. He started the group out of a concern that the school wasn’t properly separating regular trash from recycling.

SHELDON—Instead of heading home to enjoy the weekend after classes dismiss, a group students spend their Friday afternoons digging through piles of waste from the recycling bins at Sheldon High School.

Their goal: Sort out any nonrecyclable items that were put into the bins.

Junior Kellen De Kok started the group of about 10 students — which dubs itself the Recycling Gang — at the beginning of the academic year to ensure all recyclable items are being recycled.

He had learned the school’s recycling bins had not always been separated from the regular trash receptacles.

“I thought that was really stupid because we have a whole section of the dumpsters for recycling stuff, and I figured it’d be a fairly easy thing to just sort through the bins every Friday and make sure they actually get to the recycling,” De Kok said.

He approached the high school principal Sherrie Zeutenhorst about his idea at the beginning of the academic year, and she gave it her blessing.

To recruit help for his mission, De Kok posted an update on his Snapchat story asking if other students would want to lend a hand with sorting. The students who responded to his post said they decided to join the group because they, too, wanted to ensure the school properly disposed of its recycling.

“It used to bother me that they used to throw away the garbage, all the recycling bins into the garbage,” said junior Ricardo Rubio, one of the students in the Recycling Gang.

The group first collects the recycling bins from around the school and sorts through the items to make sure they are all recyclable. They then gather the items in bags and place them in the recycling receptacle near the high school’s south parking lot.

“It’s actually gone really well so far,” De Kok said. “Tissues have been the main culprit that goes into our recycling bins, but other than that, for the most part everyone always recycles paper.”

When members of the Recycling Gang sift through the refuse, they wear disposable gloves provided by the school’s custodians. It usually takes the group about 30 minutes to sort through the pile but can take longer if there had been a special event at the school resulting in extra waste.

“Sorting garbage, it’s gross, but it’s fun at the same time,” said junior Rose Hoogers, another member of the recycling group.

Since the Recycling Gang first began their work, De Kok has noticed more of his classmates are becoming cognizant of what types of items can be recycled.

“Students have started to look at their bottles to see if it has the right number on the bottom,” he said.

According to the Northwest Iowa Area Solid Waste Agency & Recycling Center’s guidelines, plastic containers labeled 1-5 are accepted as recyclables.

De Kok said his hope is that students will not only become more responsible recyclers at school but when they go home, too.

The recycling group will continue its weekly sorting job for the remainder of the academic year and into next year, De Kok said. After he graduates, he hopes younger students will keep the group going as well.

“We have a lot of waste here, so to just even to reduce that a little bit I feel like would be very beneficial.”