By Alma Sanchez, 17, Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet HS
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Alma is going to try to go the whole school year without using any new paper.

Ever since middle school, I’ve known it was important to do what you can to save the environment. In class we watched An Inconvenient Truth, a movie about global warming. Seeing images of ice melting and the polar bears’ habitat being destroyed made me disappointed. How could we do that? But I never imaged myself doing something to help. I thought, “What can I do, if I’m only one person?”

I would go to other neighborhoods and see “Please recycle” signs and bins for recycling. But in my community, South Central, you don’t see that. There aren’t a lot of recycling programs. I felt like the community should care but I understood that people were worried about other things, like paying their rent or mortgage and there are a lot of people who have lost their jobs.

I felt like the government should do something. But I didn’t take action. I never imagined myself calling up local government to get recycling bins in the community. I felt like you should only call if it’s really important, like an injustice or crime.

Then last summer, my history teacher gave us an assignment to read from a textbook and answer prompts. But of course like most students, I tried to avoid reading—hey, it was summer. I like to organize so I decided to clean out my binder from the previous year. I pulled out pages of handouts. Some handouts were suggested reading that not everyone even read. Others were two one-sided pages stapled together instead of printed on both sides. “A waste of paper,” I thought.

I decided to reuse the handouts for note taking. I wasn’t thinking about the environment, just that it was a waste. My parents always taught me to not be wasteful. My dad says “turn off the lights” and “don’t let the water run while you’re brushing your teeth.” I placed them inside a shoebox and almost filled it.

I had to get used to paper without lines

Alma saved a year’s worth of handouts and assignments to reuse this year.

When I returned to my assignment, I took notes on the back of a handout. It was hard to take notes without lines because my writing was slanted; it felt sloppy. After a few more pages of notes I got used to it and started writing more neatly. I like to outline and it was easier on unlined paper.

When I went back to school, I used the handouts to take notes in my other classes too. It became a habit and I rarely used new lined paper.

I started using handouts for assignments too. One day in class I decided to write an essay on the back of a handout. My English teacher was walking around the class and saw me. He asked me if I needed paper and I told him no. But the next day he placed a stack of lined paper on the corner of my desk while the class was taking a quiz. I was embarrassed that he thought I couldn’t afford paper. After class, I gave the lined paper back and told him that I was trying not to waste paper. He wouldn’t let me use reused paper for AP timed essays because he said it was hard to read. But most of the time, he let me turn in assignments on handouts.

Another time, I asked my math teacher what he thought about me turning in assignments on reused paper. He said that he didn’t mind and he turns the handouts over because he’s curious. I was surprised. He actually read what was on the other side of the paper.

Several classmates said that I was being environmentally friendly, which made me realize that reusing paper did help the environment. I noticed that when my classmates would make a mistake, they would crumple the sheet and get a new one. When students pass notes they rip out notebook paper. Why not grab a handout you don’t want or are not using? But I didn’t tell anyone else to do it because no one likes to be told what to do.

After I published an article about reusing paper in my school newspaper in April, a lot of people came up to me and said it was a good idea. Some said they were going to do it too. During Spanish class, this senior yelled across the room, “Alma, I’m doing the same thing as you,” and held up a handout. “You can change the world.” I never imagined that people would do the same thing. I was really happy and proud.

I could save paper in other ways too

We need to think about how we can be more environmentally friendly. Last fall I requested a lot of college information. In the spring I made a college list and looked online to get more information, then crossed out names of schools I wasn’t interested in. I tried to get them to stop sending me brochures but they’re still sending me stuff. I should have gone online to learn more about the colleges before requesting information.

I found other ways to reuse handouts too. For my science fair board, I typed up the procedures on the back of purple handouts from my math class.

I think more about my actions now. While writing this story, I asked my mom if we could get a blue recycling bin from the city. She said yes and called the sanitation bureau that same day. A week later there was the bin behind our house next to the black one for trash. It didn’t cost money to get the bin. I now have a wastebasket for paper in my room and when it fills up, I take the paper out to the recycling bin. I may be just one person, but I feel like I’m making a difference.