By Miranda Beal, One Cool Earth's AmeriCorps VIP Fellow
At a waste audit last fall, a young girl sorting potential marine debris came up to me and said, “We are taking care of planet Earth”. Nearly 80 percent of marine debris originates from land-based sources. Marine debris is any man-made, solid material that enters waterways directly through littering or indirectly via rivers, streams and storm drains. It can be simple items such as a discarded soda can, cigarette butt, or plastic bag that ends up in the ocean potentially harming marine life. Marine debris can kill and injure marine wildlife through ingestion and entanglement, disrupt habitat, endanger human health, cause damage to shipping vessels, and hurt businesses and tourism by polluting our beaches and coastline. Plastic debris is especially threatening because of its ability to absorb and concentrate toxic pollutants.
Youth have displayed higher rates of littering behaviors. One Cool Earth's goal with marine debris education is influence youth and their peers to keep storm water clean in order to protect waterways. The ultimate solution to marine debris is prevention. The NOAA Marine Debris Program supports projects focused on marine debris prevention through education and outreach. As a recipient of NOAA's funding opportunity, OCE offers a zero-waste program which includes marine debris education and student-and-school-led waste management programs.
Together, the students, staff, and garden educator managers are working to launch waste-sorting stations, create on-site compost bins, and teach the school and community about zero-waste practices. Every weekday, the Green Team, built up of select student leaders, instruct their schoolmates which items go to the blue bin (recycling), the grey bin (trash), or yellow bin (compost). The Green Team then takes the compost bins filled with fruits and vegetables and chops them with a spade. After the compost is in smaller pieces, it is transferred into a plastic "macrobin" where worms feast.
Schools also participate in a waste audit where one school-day's worth of waste is sorted into categories. At waste audits, many students are surprised to find certain items and are interested in reusing items they found like markers, glue sticks, and are silly about keeping food items like doughnuts (of course they're just joking). It opened their eyes how a whole bag gets contaminated if it isn't placed in the right bin. For instance, a juice box can accidentally get place in a recycle bin which now makes the bin "ooey gooey".
Following the waste audit, the entire school participates in presentations about the waste audit findings and view (and smell) the school's waste piled before their eyes. During this time, students brainstorm actions they can take to decrease the amount of waste going to the landfill, such as making educational signs, bringing reusable lunch containers, and eating all the food on their plates. With the school-wide waste audit, One Cool Earth is able to show students our waste footprint and learn how small changes can make a big difference in waste!