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Trying to be environmentally friendly isn’t easy inside prison unless you’re a person in authority. 

I work as a recycler for the California Prison Industry Authority’s (CALPIA) bread shop in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison (CSATF). CALPIA employs people inside prisons to make products and provide services for the state. 

As a part of my daily duties, I push a 3-foot-by-5-foot cart around the shop to pick up cardboard and plastic bags.

I love doing my job. I’m happy that the shop has recycling equipment, including a trash compactor that we use to compress and pack down the plastic bags. The shop also has multiple colored trash cans that we use to separate food waste, plastic bags and trash. 

Despite all of this equipment, however, recycling efforts are the least of the shop’s concern. The main objective of the shop is ultimately to maximize production. The second objective of the shop is possibly the personal safety for the workers. Not once have we had a meeting about the importance of recycling for the environment.

Environmental efforts should be a higher priority. The bread shop doesn’t just produce packs of sandwich bread. It also produces packaging for cookies, snack packs and lunch boxes. Whenever I do my rounds to pick up cardboard and plastic bags, I see a lot of slices of bread buried along with the plastic bags inside the plastic bins. There have also been times when I would notice that seeds, crackers, cheeses, cookies, paper towels and other trash would be mixed inside the recycling bins. 

Because I take my job seriously, I always make an effort to put the misplaced waste in their appropriate bins. 

Most people in prison do not understand or care about the positive impact they can have on the environment.

It’s frustrating to pick up after another person who is not mindful of their negative actions. It’s also frustrating to not be in a position of authority to tell people that they’re not allowed to harm the environment. 

I try to set a positive example by shaking out every cookie crumb out of the big plastic bags that were used to hold the cookies, and pull out every single piece of cardboard out from the trash to be recycled. 

I hope my efforts to protect the environment will inspire others to do the same.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Tue Kha is a writer incarcerated in California. He is working on a novel titled "Kormic."