From Trash to Transformation

  • Beach Trash, Costa Rica Youth Program

Earlier this summer I had the amazing pleasure of accompanying 13 of my students to Costa Rica. Most of my kiddos had never been out of the Midwest, and a few had never been on a plane; so to say that they were super jazzed to be on a two week Costa Rican adventure is an understatement.

On the top of many of their lists of things that they were looking most forward to was seeing the ocean.

On the drive over to the beach, the kids were beaming with excitement and would raise their hands with questions and excited probings about whether or not they could dip their toes into the ocean. Some of them had been dreaming of this day for their whole lives. We arrived, walked down the path and jaws dropped. We were seeing the ocean for the first time on our trip- the first time ever for many of the kids- and the wide-eyed anticipation turned quickly to wide-eyed horror.

Kids toys scattered across the beach in Costa RicaThe beach was riddled with garbage.

Heaps upon piles of washed up debris: unloved toys, plastic bottles, rubber tires, shoes, plastic, plastic, and more plastic junk. Everyone was speechless and many were heartbroken. But of course, our No Barriers’ leaders predicted this moment of shock and wanted to turn it into an important learning moment. We talked about tides and the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. One of our No Barriers Youth Expedition Leaders, Alexa, showed us pictures of autopsied birds with a disgusting amount of undigested plastic in their stomachs, a sea turtle with a 6-pack ring caught around it, and several more victims of the ocean garbage.

We let the kiddos wander the beach and told them to try and find a piece of garbage that was particularly surprising them. One student brought back a styrofoam lunch tray and commented that it looked like an animal had unfortunately taken a bite out of it. This moment truly started getting all of the wheels in their heads turning and was the impetus to our No Barriers Pledge.

At the end of our expedition, it was clear to all of the students that they wanted to focus their service project and No Barriers Pledge on educating our school about single use plastics. The students started discussing all of the Gatorade bottles they see, the plastic forks used in the lunchroom and then the sad fact that each student, for each meal, uses a disposable Styrofoam tray – the same type of tray we found on the beach.

And with this, we started formulating a plan.Garbage scattered across the beach in Costa Rica

This school year, we plan on approaching our administration with the idea to use and store 2500 enviro-friendly, durable, reusable plastic trays for our meals. We are still in the planning stages but we have divided up into very inspired teams. We are currently researching our options, our arguments and creative ways to fund ourselves. Our biggest argument: after doing the math, our school alone throws 450,000 styrofoam trays into the landfill every school-year – and it costs us $18,000 to do so.

We know there is another option. And we pledge to make it our mission to see that our school is doing its part to cut down on waste production and to make our school a little more environmentally friendly.

And all of this started on a little beach, in a country 3,500 miles away where 13 kids were changed forever.