Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 12:45 am | Mostly Cloudy 65º


Sarah Ettman-Sterner: Students’ ‘Trashy’ Behavior a Big Drag on Environment

Dos Pueblos High's AP environmental studies class learns firsthand the burden of wasteful habits

Something strange and — in a bizarre way — wonderful is going on at Dos Pueblos High School. If you’re a school parent or happen to pass by that way this week, you might catch a glimpse of more than 100 students lugging around white bags of “stuff,” in addition to their usual backpacks overflowing with books, lunch and gym clothes.

Sarah Ettman-Sterner
Sarah Ettman-Sterner (Nick Sterner photo)

The students are Dos Pueblos teacher Ryan Gleason’s “APES,” but in no way are they monkeying around.

This motley crew of plaid-clad people is participating in an Advanced Placement environmental studies class experiment. The official name is the Municipal Solid Waste Project — or, as I like to call it, the “white trash-bag experience.” There’s nothing like literally giving trash the heave-ho!

While the saying “seeing is believing” is true, there’s something to be said for feeling and experiencing what it’s like carting around a week’s worth of self-produced garbage. That’s exactly what these students are doing. It’s one way to learn the human cost of not being mindful and proactive about the problem of wasteful, consumptive behavior.

So, how does the white trash-bag experience work?

The best way to define it is to refer to junior high health, science or life-skills classes, which include lessons on toting around and caring for a nearly lifelike baby doll for several days. The robo-baby randomly cries, wets and fusses all day and night. Students get the distinct honor of playing the role of mommy or daddy while hauling around their pride and joy in life-size car seats.

The students face consequences if they neglect their artificial offspring, which is tied to class performance for a grade. It’s an effective way to teach children about taking responsibility and caring for another human being. The bonus? A live demonstration that speaks to the fact that rearing a child as a teenage parent is, like, totally un-fun.

The APES green science version of the “baby on board” lifestyle experiment is low on the cute and cuddly factor, about the same in terms of weight and volume, and high when it comes to the “this is a big drag” factor.

“The goal is to get students to see the amount of waste they produce in a week. It’s a real eye-opening experience,” Gleason said. “A key part is they are not allowed to recycle, it’s not an end-all, be-all solution to waste reduction. There is a carbon footprint cost to recycling. They need to think about solutions.”

Senior APES student Dan Balch said the experiment is “going to be really cool. Everyone goes, ‘Oh, recycling, no guilt, it’s done, it’s out of here. It’s not my fault. Recycle — it’s good!’ But it’s actually not that good, because it still has to be reprocessed and transported. This is actually teaching us to cut down on all of our waste.”

Like most tree-hugging, green-skinned, science types, I’m curious to find out the results of this experiment, which is in its second year and destined to become an annual right of passage at Dos Pueblos. I’m interested in discovering what students think about their personal waste stream. How much of it is recyclable, but at what cost in terms of energy expended? How much of their trash goes to the Santa Barbara landfill? How much of it is compostable? How does their waste footprint compare with the national average? What are some of their ideas about solutions to lessen their trashy behavior, as well as yours and mine?

Go for it, you lucky APES! May your peers, siblings and parents exercise patience, your bags stay closed, your burden tolerable and your awareness expanded. 

I look forward to learning from APES and value feedback from them and you. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to explore a trashy subject.

Click here to listen to an interview with Gleason. Click here to listen to what the environmental studies students have to say about the experiment.

Green Hawk interactive producer Sarah Ettman-Sterner focuses on current environmental trends and marine-related topics. A member of the Society for Environmental Journalists, she provided the “voice” for Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society for more than a decade. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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