When I Grow Up

Trophies made from recycled materials

Outstanding projects received trophies made by EPA Chemist Bill Rugh out of recycled materials.

By Christina Motilall

When I was growing up I wanted to be a veterinarian. Something about helping sick animals made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. As I got older, my love for animals grew into a love for nature, and I always felt a fierce need to protect it. I have learned a lot about environmental stewardship over the years, but one thing that has always stuck with me is the need to use less… stuff.

I think the necessity to reduce consumption, re-use items, and recycle trash is essential due to growing populations and shrinking landfills. And with islands of debris forming in our oceans, the world could use a trash-disposal makeover. But how could I help? I am just one person, how could I have impact on the world around me?
One step at a time, that’s how.

That is why the ‘Use It or Lose It!” competition for Corvallis, Oregon middle school students was not only fun and informative, but also an important insight into environmental awareness.

This Earth Day challenge to ‘upcycle’ discarded bits and pieces to create new, usable items was a great success. Many impressive middle schoolers used everything from empty pop cans to old plastic bags to create truly innovative products. Proving that one person, no matter their age, can do a lot.

Sponsored by an EPA reserach laboratory, 12 semi-finalists were selected by Agency scientists from local middle schools. The semi-finalists and their families were invited to an Earth Day reception at the Corvallis lab for the final judging and selection of the top three outstand projects.

And who better to judge than local community members? Corvallis, Oregon mayor Julie Manning, artist Zel Brook, and lab director Tom Fontaine Ph.D. all put their heads together to select a pop can chair, an eco-outfit, and a solar water filter.

That’s right. In the midst of homework, family, friends, and extra-curricular activities, these students made every day necessities out of every day ‘trash.’ This competition allowed students (from a young age) to see potential in their consumption. Instead of labeling something as ‘trash’ why not judge whether or not it is useful? That is exactly what these students did and they excelled at it.

Look for posts tomorrow on the three Outstanding Projects and the inspiration behind each idea.

These kids are something else.

About the author: Christina Motilall is an intern for the Office of Research and Development’s Science Communications Team.