In honor of America Recycles Day on November 15th, our Pathway of the Month is Waste Management. And with Americans, alone, producing ~4.6 lbs of trash per person per day, waste is a HUGE problem!

That’s right. The U.S. may be just 5% of the world’s population, but we generate the most pounds of trash per person per day. Scarier yet, it’s estimated that about 10% of that is plastic waste. This plastic pollution poses, perhaps, the biggest threat of all! According to The Ecology Center in California, 12% of the entire municipal waste stream (of all trash) are various plastics as compared to the 1960s when it consisted of close to only 1% of the waste stream. In other words, that’s about 5 plastic bags filled with more plastic bags per foot of coastline.

The issue of plastic pollution is made even more urgent because it all ends up in the ocean. As a matter of fact, Science in the News for Students reports that 80% of all waste originates on land and is washed into streams/rivers before being carried downstream towards the sea. Once in the sea, it gets swept by ocean currents into huge vortex-like gyres where it conglomerates and poses hazards to marine life which ingest it.

So WHY is this a problem?? Simply, because threats to marine life like this pose threats to the food web. Not only that, but plastics also don’t biodegrade. Instead, they photodegrade… they break into smaller and smaller pieces which cause issues in the food web at the most micro level as well as attracting more pollutants. Luckily, though, this problem IS manageable and all we have to do is manage our own waste on land. There are some really great initiatives happening across the nation and you can check out a few of those below. So, now, your November challenge—what is YOUR school going to do??

Challenge: What is THE most creative use of re-purposing plastics or diverting trash from the landfill your school can create?

SHARE! We want to hear about your projects, so please share them with us on Instagram. Use the hashtag #OperationZeroWaste and win a chance to have your school recognized nationally via a re-post on our Project Green Schools IG page, as well other recognition opportunities. For helpful tips on your school’s participation, check out the Guidelines for Operation: #viralSTEMchallenge.

Get the Conversation Started: To give you some ideas, check out these amazingly innovative initiatives for best practices in sustainability–

  1. Plastic Roadways: India has come up with a really cool and innovative way to rid its country of all its massive plastic waste… melt it down and pave their roads with it! Currently, India has about 21,000 miles of plastic roads. Their success has even inspired other countries across the globe to do the same. Talk about conservation success!
  2. Fashion Accessories: A research study on a little monkey, the Cotton-top Tamarin, spawn a huge social justice initiative for Colombian women. Education about the country’s indigenous lil’ monkey has fostered awareness and care for its natural habitat and home to millions of people—and it all started simply by a handful of women crocheting mochillas from an ordinary plastic bag! Who would’ve thought that a “plastic bag bag” would’ve made it all the way to the fashion runway! Oh, and if you think these eco-mochillas are cool, then you’ll definitely want to check out this solar-powered bag from Green Club Nigeria that can charge your cell phone and provide lighting!
  3. Fight Against Poverty: Speaking of social justice, you can see how the City of Greensboro in North Carolina is re-purposing plastic bags and caring for their homeless population. Everyone deserves dignity while they wait to get back on their feet and take their proper place in society again!