For the second year, the entire Fifth Grade participated in a five-day "Trash on Your Back" challenge coordinated by Fifth Grade science teacher Jessica Clingman as part of her sustainability-focused curriculum. To make consumption and waste more visible, students placed all of their dry trash and recyclables in a bag that they carried with them everywhere. This year, the Upper School Applied Chemistry Class, taught by Kim Collura, also joined in the initiative. Fifth graders also were encouraged to ask their teachers, friends and relatives to join the challenge as well. In all, the students recruited 24 PDS teachers, 15 relatives and 13 friends!
When the week ended, students sorted the contents of their bags to gather data about their trash footprint. The average number of items collected by a 5th grader was 34, but individual counts ranged anywhere from seven to 250! The students also found that most of the trash that was collected was plastic, paper or wrappers from food.
Middle School Head and Assistant Head of School for Academic Life Renée Price shared what she learned from toting her trash around all week:
"People like trash out of sight; when we are forced to look at it, we are forced to think about the way it exists. I also realized that we have so much packaging in our culture. I immediately thought, ‘how can I reduce packaging while also ensuring that I protect myself from food contamination, etc.?’ Finally, while it was not always convenient to carry my trash, it opened up important conversations with others about waste."
Ms. Clingman reflected, “My wish is that this made participants think more about what they use, recycle and throw in the trash. There really is no 'away' when we speak about throwing things away. The more we open our eyes to what we use, the better decisions we will make to reduce our trash footprint."
She also shared some actionable steps she plans to take to reduce her own waste. "I will be canceling catalogs this weekend and I have ordered new hand soap and laundry detergent that does not use any plastic containers. Last year after this experience, I ordered a zero-waste container from TerraCycle to use for my beauty products." Clingman also provided a resource for students and faculty that detailed the many recycling programs in our local area, shown below.