“Be kind to the Earth and buy more vintage!” In a high school of teenagers (Gr. 9-12) and many of those who love to go shopping for clothes, the class saw a great opportunity to educate students and encourage the reuse of existing clothing as a small step toward sustainability. After learning about fast fashion, energy requirements and emissions related to clothing production, the amount of clothing waste that ends up in landfills as well as the increase of synthetic fabrics like polyester (plastic) in our clothing items, they realized how much sense it makes to wear used clothing instead of new. What if we could reuse clothes more often, and what if we could decrease our dependence on plastic in the manufacturing of new clothing? After learning about the small percentage of plastic in the recycle bin that actually gets recycled, it became obvious that solutions and problem solving are required. What if the plastic we do end up buying had multiple and long-term uses?
The students of the Grade 11/12 Environmental Science class planned and executed actions in our school and community to bring awareness to the issues of plastic waste. The specific issues addressed were the plastic waste created by synthetic clothing items in the landfill, the microplastic waste that comes off synthetic fabrics in the wash water and the plastic waste from recycle bins that isn’t getting recycled. They were keen to continue the legacy of Clean Clinton which is in its 3rd year at CHSS. Clean Clinton was created and continued by science classes who study sustainability and the impacts of plastic waste after inspiration and encouragement from Blue Bayfield and EcoExeter.
The class set up a used clothing drive school-wide ending with a pop-up shop ‘Thrift Giveaway’ to offer those items back to students for reuse. ‘The most sustainable clothes are the ones that already exist’ became their tagline. Another focus became, “Be kind to the Earth and buy more vintage!”. The class bulletin board display said exactly this. The class ran a ‘Thrift Gift’ initiative on Instagram to encourage, and educate about, thrift shopping. Interested students from CHSS chose a local thrift shop and were given $25 to spend there, with the promise they would send a picture of their outfit. Instagram posts announced the initiative but also shared information with students in the school about the environmental benefits of thrifting. A radio and internet news story ran by Blackburn News sharing our initiative. Students who were given $25 to thrift were over-the-moon excited with the opportunity, even though hesitant at first. When they shared their picture, they were given a choice of an eco-friendly prize. The prizes chosen were bringing awareness to the issues of microplastics in the washing machine water (Guppyfriend Washing Bag), natural vs. synthetic fibres (cotton beach towel) and the importance of reusable plastics instead of single use plastics (water bottle, cutlery, shopping bags). The class is in the process of testing the Guppyfriend Washing Bag ourselves in an investigation about its effectiveness in trapping microplastics.
‘A New Purpose Contest’ was our final initiative to raise the issue about plastic waste in a recycle bin that doesn’t get recycled. A guest speaker from the Bluewater Recycling Association prompted a discussion about what can go in the recycle bins locally and what happens with the items collected. The class learned that the best solution is to avoid buying the plastic but if you do have plastic, an alternative is to repurpose that plastic yourself. With this contest, the class is encouraging people to email a picture of their best repurposing/reusing effort of a plastic waste item. The poster and Instagram were the main sources of information. This contest is ongoing, with prizes the same as our ‘Thrift Gift’ initiative to both educate and reward participants.
Reflection & Celebration
Blackburn News came to do an interview for radio and for BlackburnNews.com. The reporter who came is a superfan of all things environmental but especially those that are envisioned and implemented by young people. It seems every small step made by young people is inspiring for many. The BIA of a local village in our school catchment, Blyth, reached out and directly shared their appreciation and hopefulness when seeing the work of our small science class at CHSS. Since calling the science class Clean Clinton, developing a logo and a slogan, the efforts are more recognizable on radio and on social media. The class says, “What we do today, changes our tomorrow.” We continue to believe that the small actions of collecting used clothing to be redistributed to new owners, challenging the students at our school to try, like or even love thrift shopping, and then encouraging people to repurpose plastic waste are all going to change our tomorrow in some way.