After joining the environmental club at Thornapple Kellogg Middle School, Caroline Hannapel decided to stop using disposable containers for her school lunch, shifting to a waste-free, reusable lunch container. She stopped using plastic straws, started paying more attention to electricity use at home and has been encouraging her classmates to do the same.
The new club, led by seventh grade science teacher Jamie Bowman, has focused on ways to be sustainable in and out of the classroom.
“This club is about how to live sustainably, not just recycling,” Caroline said. “As the younger generation, it is our job to take care of this because this isn’t a problem we can afford to push off.”
The club, made up of 12 middle school students, started in October. Since then, they have hosted sustainable lunch demos, held crayon recycling drives and made environmentally-friendly lotions for Christmas presents. The club has also provided weekly tips in parent newsletters.
Looking ahead, the club has planned to research steps to achieve lofty goals, such as replacing Styrofoam in the lunch room with reusable trays and silverware. The club also plans to start a middle school community school supply storage room, where students can take notebooks and pencils when they need them.
“We are an example of one person, or one group, working to make a difference,” Caroline said. “We are all becoming more aware of the world around us and how to make real change.”
Leading by Example
Bowman, who works hard to live as sustainably as possible herself, often uses her experience to share ways to live more environmentally-friendly.
“I take compost from the school and use it at home to be as sustainable as possible,” she said. “I also avoid buying plastic and recycle everything that I can.”
For seventh grade student Emma Neff, seeing adults taking active steps to be more sustainable has inspired her to try to be more aware herself.
‘As the younger generation, it is our job to take care of this because this isn’t a problem we can afford to push off.’— seventh grader Caroline Hannapel
“If adults aren’t recycling and trying to recycle and take action then of course kids aren’t doing it either,” she said. “It’s a cycle of creating bad habits with each generation.”
Reading articles about companies that pollute the environment and seeing people creating unnecessary waste has made Emma more aware of the need for action, she said.
“This is not a problem we can just push off until we are adults,” she said. “It is, unfortunately, going to take a long time to fix this problem, and if we don’t act soon, it could be too late because we don’t have a ton of time.”