Havens Elementary School Students Strive for a Healthy Watershed

Written by Cynthia DeLeon, Program Manager

Scientific studies estimate that 60-80% of marine debris is plastic! There are currently 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of our oceans. Plastic never disappears; it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces by a process called photo degradation and forms “plastic soup”. This may seem like a faraway problem to many adults and students alike. After all, who would throw their trash into our cherished oceans? It turns out that this problem is very relevant to our daily lives because plastic litter can get into local creeks, the San Francisco Bay, and the ocean by washing off city streets into storm drains. Scientists predict that by 2050, the number of plastic pieces in our oceans will outweigh the number of fish. Marine organisms often mistake plastics for food or become entangled in plastic trash.

Ms. Mortan’s and Mr. Campana’s fourth grade students at Havens Elementary School in Piedmont were shocked to learn this information in their KIDS for the BAY Storm Drain Rangers Program. After discovering how marine animals are affected by storm drain pollution, and plastic trash in particular, they were inspired to take action and help protect their watershed. Student environmentalists carefully surveyed their campus and cleaned up their neighborhood.

“I learned how much trash is floating in a square mile of the ocean. I also learned about the trash island,” shared Matt, a student from Mr. Campana’s fourth grade class, referring to a massive collection of marine debris in the Pacific Ocean, made up mostly of plastic.

“I liked recording the trash data. I learned that if trash gets into a storm drain, it goes into the creek and the bay!” exclaimed Karina, another student. All students were excited at the prospect of using their scientifically recorded data to figure out the main type of trash that was ailing their neighborhoods and potentially hurting their watershed. The results were informative.

Ms. Mortan’s class found that 41 percent of trash in the school campus was plastic, followed by paper products, at 31 percent. Mr. Campana’s class found that 61 percent of trash on campus was plastic, with paper and aluminum coming in second and third.

“I thought that we would only pick up 100 pieces of trash, but our whole class actually picked up 357 plastic, 88 aluminum, 140 paper, and 114 other pieces,” shared Maddie, a fourth grader. From the results, we can see that Havens Elementary’s scientific survey closely resembles the composition of trash found in the ocean, with plastic being the leading pollutant.

Once litter enters the watershed through storm drains, it can be incredibly challenging to clean up. For this reason, using the Five Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot, and Refuse) is important to decrease pollution in every ecosystem in our environment. The fourth graders at Havens Elementary pledged to refuse plastic straws, plastic bags, and disposable utensils and to use reusable products instead. We will investigate the impact these practices will make in our follow-up Neighborhood Survey and Campus Clean-Up project in the spring!

Learn more about the Storm Drain Rangers Program and register!