When I walk at the beach, I often stop and scan the ocean out to the horizon. I notice the surfers as they wait patiently for the perfect wave, and I watch seabirds soaring overhead as they search for something to eat. Occasionally, my husband and I have even glimpsed a spout of misty air as a gray whale surfaces.
At low tide, I explore the rocky tide pools and enjoy getting an inkling of the wide diversity of life that exists below. On recent trips, I have discovered an amazing variety of animals, including sea slugs, starfish, anemones, rock crabs, kelp snails, and sea hares. I have even found a couple of the descriptively named wavy topped turban gastropods. The tide pools reveal some of the complexity of life dwelling beneath the surface, just as the litter I find washed up on shore hints at the vast amount of trash that makes its way down our watersheds and into our oceans.
Until recently, people believed that “no matter how much trash and chemicals humans dumped into [our oceans], the effects would be negligible.” By now, most have heard of the North Pacific Gyre and the patch of garbage the size of the state of Texas that is swirling out at sea. It has become widely known that the negative effects have in fact been profound. Unfortunately, in spite of environmental advocacy by groups and individuals, bad habits have been slow to change.
I am excited that my school, Del Rio Elementary, is embarking on a zero waste campaign that will help us decrease the amount of trash we produce. We will be the second school in Oceanside, CA to join the city’s effort to achieve a 75% reduction in the amount of waste being sent to landfills by the year 2020.
Two inspirational women, Jenna Roripaugh and Corinna Goodwin, who spent a very long September day at Del Rio conducting our first waste audit, are coordinating the Zero Waste Schools program. They labored for hours at our site as they sorted and weighed every scrap to determine where it is heading in the waste stream. The data will provide us with a baseline that will be used to document our progress.
In October, Corinna visited each of our classrooms to share the results of the audit. In addition, she invited students to join the Del Rio Green Team—a group that will consist of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students who will make our zero waste goal possible.
Many students are actually volunteering to give up their recesses to help collect and sort our trash. They will be assigned to monitor and assist during breakfast and lunch service, and they will also help pick up litter left strewn around campus. As our program grows and funding becomes available, we hope to build a garden and start composting.
I am excited about the impact that we will be able to have on our immediate environment, but I am also enthused about the opportunity to teach our kids that they can have an impact far beyond the school. My hope is that our Green Team will learn that they can become catalysts for even greater changes.
To empower them, we will start a student-led Green Team Zero Waste blog; we will create multi-media productions that will be shared online; and we will participate in appropriate crowd-sourced initiatives such as #litterati.
Maybe we will even find a way to take a field trip to the beach so the Green Team can spend some time cleaning up the debris we are sure to find washed ashore. If we time our adventure right, we might even get to observe of a few of the incredible creatures living in the tide pools.
Our school is small, but I believe our ability to have a positive impact is enormous. It will take passion, action, and hard work on the part of many, but I am ready to begin. Our kids are ready too. Are you?