School Students’ Solutions to Trash Pollution

Written by: Yvette Diaz Samayoa and Mikayla Martin

There are 525 school districts and 5,887 elementary schools in California (CA Department of Education). The state’s schools produce 562,442 tons of trash each year (CalRecycle). Trash from school campuses and neighborhoods often makes its way into storm drains, waterways and landfills and causes many pollution problems. How can we all help with this problem? 

This year, KIDS for the BAY launched our Watershed Rangers Program in Richmond, California. We are working with eight under-resourced partner elementary schools in the City of Richmond to help provide environmental education and to inspire our young environmentalists to help keep their city clean! Program Manager/Environmental Educator, Yvette Diaz Samayoa, who grew up in the Richmond/San Pablo area, is thrilled to deliver this program in her community at Stege, King, Ford and Chavez Elementary schools. Washington, Mira Vista, Valley View and Verde Elementary Schools are also participating.

Ms. Yvette was excited to bring the bay model activity to partner teacher Dr. Clifford Thompson’s fifth grade class to illustrate the connections between waterways in the San Francisco Bay estuary and to help students understand the connections between their school neighborhood, their local Baxter Creek watershed, the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The students poured freshwater and saltwater into their bay model to discover how bay area rivers and the Pacific Ocean mix to create brackish water in the bay estuary. Student scientists also added drops of yellow food color, representing trash pollution, to their models. Many students were very concerned to see how the animals and waterways in their models were impacted by this pollution. Ricky Kim Ng exclaimed, “The problems of the pollution spreading are similar to climate change and lead to the animals feeling sad and depressed!” The whole class agreed that the animals were badly impacted by the trash pollution, and they were eager to do a campus trash cleanup project to protect aquatic animals in their watershed and beyond. 

At Ford Elementary School, partner teacher Tessa Flaro’s fifth grade class was eager to head outside for their trash cleanup project. With reusable trash bags, tongs, and clipboards to record the items collected, the students were ready to pick up garbage and clean their school campus and local watershed! This class of enthusiastic environmentalists collected 258 pieces of trash from their playground. Many of the students were thrilled to reduce the amount of trash that was on their school campus. Xavier was so determined to collect trash that he did not let a fence stop him! He slipped in between the fences and passed the trash back into his group’s bag. His group collected the most trash out of the whole class. There was so much enthusiasm from all the students for this special project. Jezelle Garcia shouted, “I found a jump rope!” Leonel Garcia ran over to Ms. Yvette and said, “Look! We found a spray can!” The students were very proud to collect as much trash as they could to keep their environment clean. Ayoki Sisavat said, “We have to keep our city clean to keep our water consistently healthy.” She was proud of the impact her class made in doing a campus cleanup and properly disposing of their trash. 

After the cleanup, students returned to the classroom to reflect on their results and learn about the Five Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot and Refuse) as a solution to problems of trash and waste. Partner teacher Brittany Maynard’s fifth grade class from King Elementary reflected on the types of trash they found on their playground. Annabelle said, “We found lots of plastic and paper.” Izemma agreed saying, “Our group found plastics and lots of paper and one metal piece.” After learning about how to practice the Five Rs to reduce trash and waste at the source, Alonzo shared a way to use each of the Five Rs: “I can reduce the amount of food I buy in plastic packaging. I can compost food so it will rot and become dirt. I can reuse something I own instead of buying something new. I can refuse something I don’t need.” Jose added, “We can refuse straws, reuse water bottles, and reduce plastic pollution!” 

It is clear that plastic and paper items are the primary sources of trash on most school campuses. Many people are familiar with the first three of the Five Rs, but there is a need for more awareness and implementation. Students and all consumers must take responsibility for products we use and dispose of. Our KIDS for the BAY students in our Watershed Rangers Program beautifully modeled how to begin caring for the environment in your own school neighborhood. They were even inspired to teach others to care and take daily actions, such as practicing the Five Rs and conducting trash cleanups to keep the environment clean and healthy. These practices can and should be used at school and at home as much as possible. You too can influence your fellow students at school as well as your household members to follow in your sustainable footsteps! 

KIDS for the BAY