Registered: December 2012
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I have always been interested in sustainability and conservation. I love spending time in the beautiful outdoors and I believe it is our responsibility to take care of the earth. We need to have a healthy balance, between technology and the natural world, work and play, what we take and what we give back. When I discovered this website, I knew being an Apprentice Ecologist was a perfect fit for me! I was part of the leadership in a trash audit and a no-idling campaign by the Roots and Shoots club in middle school, and this summer I went to a sustainability themed world conference for IB students with a delegation of nine others from the International School of Beaverton. I was so excited to work with other student leaders from all over the world to find possible solutions to important global issues. Together, we came up with projects like unplugging electrical devices that are not in use, improving the school recycling system, composting, rainwater collection, and a produce garden.
Back at school, I decided it was time we started some of the projects we had brought back. It would be such as shame to come back from the conference with so many exciting ideas and then not do anything with them! I had thought, and so I had written them down. I took the initiative to get the juniors and seniors who had come to the conference together for a meeting where we decided to create a sustainability club for our school, so that others could carry out future projects and continue helping the environment after we graduated. I kept track of our ideas, prompted people to organize the next meeting, and I suggested and started organizing our first project.
While visiting a college campus, I had seen stickers on paper towel dispensers in the bathrooms reading “Remember… these come from trees.” My immediate reaction was to check how much paper towel I was getting from the dispenser and to make sure it wasn't more than I needed. What a clever idea! I thought. I wanted to introduce them at my school. The stickers would serve as everyday reminders not to waste, reducing paper waste at the school, and our project would raise awareness about natural resource conservation.
First, I went to the principal and got permission to place the stickers. Then, as a club, we began preparing a report to measure how much paper the stickers would save. Before placing the stickers, members of the club stayed after school every day for a week and weighed paper towel rolls in several locations, including all the bathrooms, the art classrooms, and a few other classrooms. This gave us a measurement for the amount of paper towel that was normally used. Then we counted the places where we would put the stickers (paper towel and toilet paper dispensers, butcher paper rolls, and copy machines) and ordered them online. They arrived after school was let out for winter break, so we plan to place the stickers as soon as we get back to school next year and take another week of measurements. We will then publish the report comparing paper towel use before and after in the school newspaper as part of our communication to the whole school about using our natural resources wisely.
This project has an impact on the forested areas that are harvested to make the paper towels. Clear-cutting forest not only destroys the habitats of birds and animals, but also removes the conditions undergrowth plants need to live and leads to soil erosion. In addition, the new trees that are grown are not even near the size of the old growth trees that they replace when they are next needed for harvest. Wood is often referred to as a renewable resource, but that is only because it takes a much shorter time to replenish itself than oil and coal. Unlike sun, wind, and water, which are always there, trees take time to grow to their full size, and right now they are being cut down faster than they can grow up. This problem can be helped by lowering paper consumption to a level that can be met by selective harvesting that will maintain a healthy forest. Although our school’s decrease in paper use seems small change, I hope it can be spread to other schools in our district and then to other districts. In the future I would like to encourage the Beaverton School District to replace paper towel dispensers with the new, high-efficiency air dryers and to invest in renewable energy to run them in a sustainable manner.
The project also helps the cause of sustainability in our community because students will be reminded every day that what they do matters in the world. Students who know their choices matter will be inspired not only to take better care of the environment, but also to work for social justice and equality in our world. The message ‘You can make a difference’ was expressed to us every day at the sustainability conference, and personally, that made all the difference. Seeing this project produce tangible results has proved that I can make a difference. I feel empowered, and I know I will keep working for the things I care about.