Environmental Investigation: Impact of Waste at MBHS


Morro Bay High School is unique because of its close proximity to the beach, allowing students to smell the salty sea breeze and observe sea life up close for some science classes. However, any trash or litter left by students on campus is likely to be swept out to sea and end up harming wildlife. Morro Bay High School’s environmental impacts stem from student and staff behavior as well as outside factors from the community. The trash and waste from Morro Bay High School is definitely a problem, and there are steps Pirates can take to start fixing it.

The custodial staff at Morro Bay High School works tirelessly to keep the school clean and sanitary for students. According to Morro Bay High School custodian Jarred Coburn, he and the rest of the custodial staff collects about twenty trash bags of litter a day. When asked how much trash he was unable to get, he estimated, “a full trash bag, out of a scope of twenty trash bags a day, one whole bag’s worth doesn’t get collected.” The trash is deposited into the dumpster, picked up by the city every other day. There are five trash dumpsters and four recycle dumpsters. When asked how the amount of recycling at the school compares to the trash, Coburn shared, “A lot of things are recyclable, but I don’t think kids know which is which. Recycling companies now switch what they want and what they don’t want. They’ve also been doing recycling programs for their trash, so all their trash gets recycle-sorted.” There is a concern that student’s don’t know how to recycle properly. As a result, dumpsters are sorted at the high school and the dump to ensure trash and recycling can have a higher chance of going to the right place. However, just because a piece of recycling is seen in the trash does not mean it will be sorted. Recycling can be easily contaminated by touching trash. It is contaminated if it gets dirty. This goes the other way as well; if a piece of trash is put into the recycling, it can potentially contaminate the recycling that is in the correct place.

If litter doesn’t get put in either the recycling or the trash, the environmental impacts on wildlife are immensely negative. “I’d rather the trash go into somewhere than it being out, because what happens is it’s going to blow around and end up at the beach.” Coburn stated. Because Morro Bay High School is very close to the beach, trash that isn’t picked up can very quickly go out to sea and pollute the rich ecosystems like the estuary, dunes, and ocean.

Over the years, seagulls have negatively contributed to the litter problem at the high school. Birds rip apart trash looking for food and fly around, spreading the litter farther than just the campus. Seagulls even take trash out of the trash cans. Coburn shared a story in light of the new falconeer on campus, “Now that the falconeer is here, it’s nice the seagulls aren’t, but when they were here, they were a huge problem. One time I found a seagull in the garbage can, I lifted the lid and this thing came flying out. They’re trying to get into the trash, they use it as a source of food. They’re ripping it apart, and the wind blows it around. This year has a night and day difference from last year, due to the falconeer.” The falconeer has had a positive impact on the environmental impacts of Morro Bay High School, as seagull-induced campus litter has decreased.

Food waste can be disposed of in a more environmentally conscious way than simply throwing it in the trash. Compost is the process of microbes in the earth breaking down food waste. It is a possibility to have a compost program on campus, but Coburn fears that it won’t work for students. “It’s a great idea! It’s hard enough to get students to simply throw their trash away. It’s hard enough to make people throw their trash away. People just leave their trash, even if there is a garbage can right there.” Coburn hasn’t noticed a difference over the years of working at the high school of trash left behind by students. Students simply don’t take the time to throw their trash away and leave it for either the janitorial staff, the birds, or the wind to pick it up. 

Coburn said that he is “down to help out with solutions to trash throwing-away projects to help students quit littering.” The change starts with the students of Morro Bay High School. Although the school can provide educational resources on the topic of waste disposal, students must take it upon themselves to dispose of their waste properly if they truly care about the environment. 

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