Richmond Watershed Rangers Help Reduce Plastic Pollution

“Why do people litter so much!” exclaimed Adham, a fourth grade student at Ford Elementary School in Richmond, as he extracted an Oreo wrapper and a plastic Coca-Cola bottle cap from a shrub growing near Wildcat Creek. KIDS for the BAY programs focus on the harmful impacts of plastic trash and waste that travels from San Francisco Bay Area neighborhoods and storm drains to creeks and eventually, the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean. The problem of plastic trash pollution in our neighborhoods, creek waterways, the bay, and the ocean is growing, and our young Environmentalists are taking action! 

As part of their KIDS for the BAY (KftB) Watershed Rangers Program, Richmond fourth and fifth grade students at Ford and Montalvin Manor Elementary Schools had the opportunity to go on walking field trips to explore nearby aquatic habitats and address the problem of plastic trash pollution in their school neighborhoods and watersheds. An unexpected drizzle delayed the Ford Environmentalists’ trip. While they waited for the rain to stop, KftB Educator Yvette Diaz Samayoa led a survey activity to encourage students to consider healthy and unhealthy aspects of a watershed. The students took a gallery walk around the classroom to sort watershed characteristics into categories including healthy, unhealthy, and somewhere in between. Ms. Yvette asked the class to raise their hands and name an indicator of a healthy environment. “Clean streets and trees,” suggested Yahir.  “I think creeks and nature are signs of a healthy watershed,” explained Issac.

Ms. Yvette asked the class to explain their decisions with evidence. “We put recycling bins in the middle column because they are both healthy and unhealthy. Recycling bins prevent litter and help us reuse things, but our recycling system isn’t that good,” said Miah. Ms Yvette agreed. “A lot of recycling systems have imperfections. They also vary city to city, which overwhelms or confuses people and makes it more likely to recycle improperly,” she said. Ms. Yvette encouraged the class to consider the recycling system in Richmond and how recycling systems differ depending on which city you live in. This discussion helped our Environmentalists realize how local waste systems impact their daily lives and to form place-based connections to environmental health hazards and solutions.

When the rain stopped, Ms. Fraser’s class was very excited to get outside and walk from their school campus to Wildcat Creek. Along the way students spotted plastic pollution and trash littering their neighborhood. Using tongs and reusable bags they picked up hundreds of pieces of trash, including plastic wrappers, PPE masks and food scraps. The Ford and Montalvin Environmentalists had already performed trash cleanup activities on their school campuses during their watershed lessons. Now they had a chance to collect plastic pollution from nearby watershed habitats and do their part for the wider neighborhood and school community. 

For their Valentine’s Day walking field trip, Montalvin Environmentalists performed a trash cleanup at Montalvin Park. “This park doesn’t have many big pieces of plastic, but there could still be a lot of smaller pieces, called microplastics, polluting the environment,” shared Ms. Yvette. Montalvin students were eager to observe their surroundings closely for any signs of artificial colors and shapes on the ground. “I found a huge piece of styrofoam next to the fence!” exclaimed Ariana. Noe crouched down between the cement block and grass and began looking closely on the ground to search for microplastics in the cracks. “I found a piece of a plastic spork, and when I kept searching the area, I found the other half,” Noe exclaimed. The Montalvin students collected and removed 891 trash pieces from their watershed environment, many of them microplastics! 

Ford Elementary students performed a Plastic Brand Audit to identify the brands of plastic trash polluting Wildcat Creek. “Take a closer look at the plastic trash you collected. Do you see any brand names on the labels?” asked Ms. Yvette. Ford students began sorting the plastic trash from the rest of the pile. “This one has a name on the label!” said Kahlee. Ms. Yvette instructed students to record the brand names they found on the labels of the trash they collected. Students enthusiastically sorted their trash and identified the parent brands alongside their parent/guardian chaperone helpers. 

KftB will share the Ford Environmentalists’ Brand Audit data with Earth Island Institute, our fiscal sponsor, to help bring a lawsuit against the biggest plastic polluters and to help students in our school communities address corporate responsibility for the plastic trash they find in their neighborhood watersheds. We are so proud of our Richmond Environmentalists, who are taking personal and collective action to reduce plastic pollution, as well as addressing corporate responsibility for the plastic packaging that often becomes plastic trash and causes harmful pollution in our environment.

KIDS for the BAY