Kids Tackle Plastic Pollution

Our Plastic and Recycling Awareness Curriculum Classroom Kit has everything teachers need to teach students (K-6) about plastic pollution. Image provided by

Plastic pollution is now considered one of the largest environmental threats facing humans and animals globally—and the problem keeps getting bigger.

My brother and I first learned about plastic pollution while we were delivering animal rescue supplies to the Gulf of Mexico during the BP Gulf oil spill. Ever since then, we have been educating ourselves on the subject and we have actually authored an award-winning Plastic and Recycling Awareness Curriculum. Our curriculum was written to match the latest national standards for science, and we even have math, literacy and art infused throughout.

This detailed framework describes the skills, knowledge and expertise students must master to succeed in work and life. It is a blend of content knowledge, specific skills, competencies, and literacies. Image obtained from the P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning

Here are some alarming facts about plastic pollution we have learned about since starting our quest to find a solution:

Did you know, globally we are using 1-million single-use plastic bags every minute, and that in America the average adult uses between 500 and 1,200 single-use plastic bags every year? If this sounds like you then you too are a “Bag Monster.” BTW, that’s my dad wearing the Bag Monster costume, which he got from our friends at Chico Bag 😉

4.16 Event 024
This is the OMG Bag Monster—the costume was provided by Chico Bags in California. Yes, that is my dad wearing the suit and it is a great way to get adults to realize how many single-use bags the average American uses each year. Image provided by

Did you know, the average adult in America uses more than 240 single use water bottles each year?

Did you know that in America we are using 500 million plastic straws every single day and most never get recycled? That’s enough to fill 127 school buses every day—46,000 school buses every year.

Alarming isn’t it?

The more we learned about the problem, the more we realized that most people really know little about the problem or even how to be the solution. Many of us recycle and it makes us feel good about our efforts but most of us never ask the next question… what really happens to all the plastic that we send to the recycling center? Well, we are asking those questions and what we found out was not what we expected.

Most people don’t realize that recycling centers are ‘for-profit’ organizations, not a ‘non-profit’ like my organization. That means the recycling center needs to make money on everything we give them. Now before anyone gets upset and thinks we are saying that recycling centers are not doing their job, let me say for the record, that is not what we are saying!

Recycling centers are truly trying to help us find solutions to the plastic pollution problem, but they also have limitations that most people don’t realize. You see, all seven types of plastics are arguably recyclable, but the truth of the matter is that some of the plastics are just too expensive to recycle. So any plastic type that you bring the recycle center that they are not able to sell or affordably make into something else gets thrown in the landfill. That’s right, recycle centers try to sell the various plastics we so happily drop off at their doorsteps, but 100% of every plastic type that they can not sell, they simply throw away.

The green ‘chasing arrows’ do not mean the product is recyclable. The symbol actually is called a ‘Resin Identifier’ and it was created to identify the chemicals used to achieve the various types of plastics. Image provided by

My brother and I tour recycling centers around the country, and what we have found is that plastics #3 (PVC), #6 (styrofoam) and plastic #7 (other) are deemed too expensive to recycle so they all end up in landfills or waterways, where they will sit for hundreds of years—or even worse, will break down into smaller pieces which frequently get eaten by animals which then die. Did you know that each year an estimated 100,000 marine mammals and over a million seabirds die from ingesting plastic?

Animal Ingestion Rate
Image obtained from Hilldale Public Schools

So as you see, that is why we created our curriculum. We want to teach the next generation of leaders about the problem—and, more importantly, how to immediately start being the solution.

We teach students that we must all reduce our dependency on plastic and always seek alternative packaging when shopping. We teach them that “precycling” is even more important than recycling. Precycling means looking at the bottom of everything we buy and if we find the plastics #3, #6 or #7 on the bottom, not buying it. That way it will never end up in our homes and it will never end up in our environment. Precycling also teaches students that they can vote with their wallets (or their mom and dad’s wallet), which sends a strong message to the manufacturers who insist on using these types of plastics.

This is just one of the many examples of the creative art sculptures students around the country created with all their collected trash as their way of showing their communities how quickly plastic trash amasses. Image provided by

Our program allows students to use art to express what they have learned during our weeklong program and the school-wide art project on the final day is always one of the highlights of the program. We have had schools make art sculptures of giant sea turtles or penguins. We even had one school make a giant map of the United States, which they filled with all the plastic trash the school generated that week as their way of showing the community how quickly our plastic trash amasses.

This is a picture of the students in South Africa who went through our curriculum. We obviously need to amend the program slightly in various countries around the world to match their recycling programs available (or not available) in their area. Image provided by

Our weeklong curriculum is available to schools nationwide. It has already been tested in one school in South Africa, and will soon be tested in our first schools in the UK and Australia. Teaching students about the problem allows students to find the best solution that works for them and affords students the opportunity to actually become the ‘teacher’ at home—since most parents were never afforded the same environmental education opportunities on the subject back when they were in school. Kids and teachers just love it and we love sharing our program with students around the world.

You can learn more about the program by visiting the website link below or by sending us an email. We will gladly help you out!

We also make available this handy ‘Pocket Recycling Decoder‘ which our friends at the Ocean Conservancy created. It helps students (and their parents) know what to watch out for when they shop, and where the plastics currently in demand at recycle centers can be recycled. Remember, “precycling” is far more important than recycling. We should all be reducing our plastic usage, precycling every time we shop, reusing whatever we can and then recycling the rest.

This handy pocket decoder should be printed and kept in your wallet or purse and used to help you “precycle” every time you shop. Image provided by

The next generation of leaders is merely inheriting the mess that previous generations unintentionally created. If we give them the tools to deal with the problem at an early age, we can truly turn this problem around. As always, thanks for reading my stories and I hope that you will let every school in your community know about the curriculum so they too can give their students the tools they need to succeed.

We also found this great 5-minute video on the issue of plastic pollution, which we encourage you to view as well: This is what happens when plastic is thrown into the ocean. We also have an entire page on our website with tons of links, videos, and educational information on the subject of plastic pollution: Plastic Awareness Info

Olivia Ries is our National Geographic Society Youth Empowerment writer. Together with her brother Carter, she hopes to inspire others to realize that “Anybody can make a difference… if they can, you can too.” Make sure to check out their website at and also ‘LIKE’ their FaceBook page as well 😉

15 thoughts on “Kids Tackle Plastic Pollution

  1. The most significant effect people have on the environment is their negative impact on the earth. While there are 100s of ways humans are affecting the environment negatively, one of the most significant ways humans destroy the planet on a daily basis is through their reliance on plastics. Although plastics help make life easier, it has been scientifically proven that plastics are killing the environment. Plastics can cause about 400,000-1,000,000 human deaths a year. A figure that doesn’t include the numerous amounts of animal death. Most importantly, the toxins of plastic, directly and indirectly, cause the pollution of our planet.

    What makes plastic toxins harmful you might be wondering? Well, the plastic itself is made from a chemical mix based on oil, the same substance that makes cars have a negative impact on our society. It gets into the landfills and the water and creates toxic conditions. Let’s look at when you throw plastic on the ground. Plastic thrown on the ground often ends up in the landfill where it overflows and slowly over thousands of years grinds into smaller particles. Or, it could end up mixing with water, turning into a toxic stew, which seeps into groundwater which we ultimately drink and contaminates it. Sometimes, birds and animals living in the water eat or chokes on the plastic, dies (or gets eaten) and becomes a part of the food chain. This means humans are not only poisoning the planet with plastic but also themselves by eating and drinking it!

    Now another way plastics harm the world, that a lot of people don’t know about, is caskets and chemicals, like formaldehyde, that we put in bodies to preserve them. Bodies decaying is organic and biodegradable. It can become an essential part of the growth cycle, plants and some mushrooms can grow, some that could be edible. Most caskets used to be made of wood, which in itself is biodegradable but commonly they’re made out of hard plastics, which we know are harmful. The current process in and of itself, can cause toxic plastic to leach into soil, affecting the future possibility of vegetational growth. Currently, people are experimenting with composting human remains, burying bodies naked, with no casket, as seeds to grow trees and turning human remains into other objects like jewels.

    Plastics can continue to be improved on, or replaced for biodegradable options, we could also go back to historically acceptable options like wood and glass. To be good for the earth anything that causes us to recycle more and depend on plastic less is win. Ultimately, humans have a bad effect on the earth, and it’s our duty to do everything in our power to reverse that effect .

  2. Best post and we need to take care of the nature and guide the children to reduce, reuse and recycle

    Is there any programs in India or in Hyderabad Telangana,India.
    Can please let me know if have any volunteer in Hyderabad Telangana, India i would like to take part in team or work as volunteer

  3. Great post! It’s really important to teach kids how to care for the environment. We should build up some idea on how both parents and educators can teach kids in a fun way.

  4. I learn that a lot of animals are dying from eating all the garbage that goes in the ocean .

    1. Yes Lorena, it is estimated that each year over 100,000 marine mammals and over 1-million sea birds die from ingesting plastic ;-(

  5. Most sea turtles eat the trash more than the bird and can endanger them.

    1. Yes Damien, especially plastic bags because they think it looks like jellyfish which they love to eat ;-(

  6. What is it like to be in a program in which you help try to ban plastic bags? Do you persuade people to be part of your program? How many people are in your program?

    1. Thanks for asking Diego, it is actually a lot of fun because the main reason people use so many plastic bags is because no one ever taught them about how bad they are for animals and our environment. It’s like the old saying goes “you typically don’t care about something you don’t know about”. In most cases, it is merely a lack of education on the issue. We love what we do because we share the information with people and they then understand and are more willing to help us make a difference 😉

  7. That really meant something and I like how you go and tell a back story and learned about the awareness.

Leave a Reply