Young Students Making a Difference at RIS

By Robin Banks and Aaron Schnittman

Many students here at RIS have been exploring the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The 1st grade classes looked closely into UN Global Goal #15: “Life on Land.” When investigating what “Life on Land” means within the context of the Global Goals, these young students became interested in learning how to keep trash out of the land. Trash on land contaminates the soil, gets into our water systems, hurts animals, smells bad, and doesn’t look good.

We decided that first we wanted to learn where our trash goes, starting from our classroom until it leaves the campus. Were there holes in our system that we could help fix? We took a walking exploration around campus to see where our trash, recyclables, food waste, and landscaping waste goes. Then we marked on a campus map where we saw all of the recycle bins. We also took a look inside the bins to see if we were actually putting the recyclables and trash in the right bins. We saw that a lot of recyclables were being put in the trash and that people were confused about where to put different containers and wrappers from our canteen. We also noticed that we needed more recycle bins instead of just trash cans. The students wondered, “Could we, as 1st graders, make a difference here on campus?”

We looked for missing links in our system and soon realized that we could sort our recyclable paper and plastic right away, in our own classrooms. So the students made bins for every room in the Elementary School using recycled cardboard boxes with clear labels. Then, to help make others aware of what we were doing, we made announcements at the ES Monday assembly and emailed teachers to encourage discussions about recycling in their classrooms.

We worked with Mr. Tyler, our Facilities and Safety Support Officer, to see if we could measure our recycling efforts here on campus. We learned that RIS gets paid, per kilogram, for our recyclables. The school keeps has a record of the total amount of money received from our recycling, but it’s not divided by paper, cardboard, and plastic, which are each paid at a different rate per kilogram. We asked Mr. Tyler if he could look into whether we can get the individual amounts by paper, cardboard, and paper, so we can calculate if certain items are being recycled more than others. We also asked Mr. Tyler to put an additional recycling bin between the small and big canteens, which he did. And because it is unclear where to put different recyclables, Ms. Robin and Mr. Aaron met with the School Advancement Office to request better signage on our bins and in our canteen.

The 1st graders further learned about recycling paper when they explored what different materials could be recycled. Then we decided that we could make our own recycled paper! We experimented to see how the paper would be different when we used just of one type of paper, for example, only newspaper or colored paper or white paper. We also learned, from Mr. Aaron’s experience making paper at the PooPoo Paper Park in Chiang Mai, how to use our hands like tiger claws to spread out the paper evenly on a screen and to let it dry on the screen. Then we tried adding color and other fun scraps that could make the paper more interesting. As you can tell from the smiles in these pictures, we had fun exploring!

RIS is trying hard to move in the right direction when it comes to reusing, reducing, and recycling. As the year is coming to an end, we plan to continue this project with next year’s 1st graders and anticipate reporting an increase in the amount we are recycling at RIS. Our hope is that this 1st grade project increases everyone’s understanding of how to make all our resources last longer.