The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

June 4, 2010

First Graders Learning to Say No to Plastic Trash

Julia Smith’s first grade class at Rooftop Alternative School, perched high up in San Francisco’s Twin Peaks area, is different from most, and Julia Smith is a special kind of teacher.

1st graders collect plastic trash at Rooftop School in SF

For example, in an effort to teach the children how to choose plastic-free grocery options, she actually took them on a field trip to Whole Foods to learn how to bring their own bags and containers to shop from bulk bins.  After a lesson about the problems of ocean plastic pollution, the class participated in the Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge to collect and tally their classroom-generated plastic waste for a week.

1st graders collect plastic trash at Rooftop School in SF

Check the Challenge site to see the full results from their week of plastic collecting and read more about what they learned. Last week, I visited the classroom to pick up the plastic they had collected and chat with the kids about the plastic I had found on the beach and find out what they had decided to do about their classroom waste.

Several of the children had gone home and let their parents know they didn’t want to bring their lunches in plastic baggies anymore. And at lunch time, I saw quite a few reusable containers come out of lunch boxes. But the biggest decision as a class was to use fewer of the plastic-wrapped spork, straw, and napkin sets provided with school lunches.

1st graders collect plastic trash at Rooftop School in SF

The children agreed that on the days when they had sandwiches or any food that didn’t require a spork, they would refuse the utensil pack altogether.

So, what did I do with the plastic waste I brought back with me? I handed it over to the Plastic Century artists for an installation at the California Academy of Sciences for the anniversary of Jacques Cousteau’s 100th birthday. The project involved four different coolers full of “drinking water” representing the years 1910, 1960, 2010, and 2030, and were full of plastics from those years. The challenge: Would you dare to drink this water knowing how much plastic is in it?

Plastic Century art installation

Next week, I’ll post more photos of the art piece and last night’s event at the Academy. The Plastic Century Team thanks Julia Smith’s class for their hard work learning to care for the planet.

Will you follow the example of this amazing bunch of first graders and join the Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge?

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Sabrina Ahmed
13 years ago

I really enjoyed this post. It’s nice to see adults taking the initiative to start educating children on why being more Green and Sustainable is important. It’s not just something that adults can understand. I love how this teacher presented the information to these kids in a way that they not only understood it but they also ENJOYED learning about why resources need to be conserved. I hope that more teachers take a page from this woman’s book and focus less on coloring books and crayons and more on where the coloring books and crayons come from.

I have always had a time teaching my own children and this post has given me some excellent ideas to implement. I also got a lot of information from . I found the site while I was blog surfing and they had quite a bit of useful information that has helped me educate myself and further my home and business endeavors to live life off the grid. I also bought one of their eco-friendly rain catchers for my backyard so that my children can water our organic garden with recycled water instead of pulling it from the tap!

If you would like to check out that website the address it

Good Luck and Go Green
-Sabrina Ahmed

Lynn Fang
13 years ago

Hi Beth, that is super awesome! We need more teachers like that.

13 years ago

Hey Beth,
just wanted to tell you that today I actually found lemon juice (the one used for cooking) in glass bottles! I bought one of course. I’m really happ about that because so far I’ve only ever seen it in plastic. I don’t use it a lot and a bottle lasts half a year, but still it’s a good feeling to have eliminated that from my trash.

I think what you do is absolutely great, and you’ve really influenced the way I see my environment.

So long,

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
13 years ago

This is so cool! Between these kids and Anna that I interviewed a few weeks ago our future is looking brighter.

13 years ago

I am, and I am not sure where the customer service counter is, but I am sure I can figure it out the next time I am there. I was told by one of the employees that I had to go to the checkout stand. Hmf!

13 years ago

To Sudha, when I taught kindergarten we used either natural clay or playdough we made ourselves. Not only is it better for the environment, it’s a lot cheaper.
When I first started teaching, I was surprised to discovered that almost none of my student’s families even recycled. In impoverished areas, it’s so often completely off the radar. But kids are definitely the easiest to motivate, and they can be pretty convincing. When we were doing a fundraiser for one of our projects, one of my students was annoyed with his uncle for not contributing, and accused him of trying to ruin the planet :D
I don’t know if the Whole Foods in SF is different, but I’m frustrated with the one in Oakland. They don’t have a place to tare your empty containers. You have to go through the checkout stands first to weigh your containers, and then again when you make your purchases. Berkeley Bowl has two places to weigh your containers (and doesn’t charge you an arm and a leg for everything).

Sandra Lee
13 years ago

This is so awesome. Now that schools out for summer and the kids are also at the warm pond that I visit close to the surf, I’m having the opposite experience of finding plastic bags there. Plus soda cans and a candy box (at least the latter is in a box!). I pick up the trash for them, but would be so happy if more kids were learning these valuable lessons.

13 years ago

I a so glad someone is so committed. As such anything to do with kids seem to generate a lot of waste and plastic in particular visit to a kindergarten class and you will all the tissues, paper bags and what not in the garbage bin…and their craft classes arent less stressful for the planet either ….does this teacher have alternatives to materials such as thermacol and polymer based clay etc

I m eager to know

13 years ago

This is sooo important, the more our kids know about this and the things they can do to help, the better the future can be!!! I am stoked to hear that people are willing to do things like this!

13 years ago

Beth, I LOVE this first grader challenge. This is fabulous! I have already started to put things in re-usable containers for Katie. You are so doing what you are supposed to be doing Beth!! :) Marla