Learn How 16 GeoChallenge Teams Tackled Plastic Pollution—and How Your Students Can Too!

This past May, 16 teams traveled to Washington, D.C., to compete in the final round of the National Geographic GeoChallenge, a project-based competition that empowers students in grades four through eight to develop creative solutions to today’s urgent environmental problems. The Tackling Plastic! GeoChallenge invited students to investigate the issue of plastic pollution in our waterways and develop creative solutions. The 2019-2020 GeoChallenge is now open

Presenting to appraisers in the 2018-2019 GeoChallenge national competition. Photo by Mark Thiessen.

Through the competition, students discovered the power of taking action. “I feel like National Geographic is giving me the voice to make a difference in this world that I’m growing up in,” commented student Riley Rose. 

Take a look at the finalist teams in last year’s competition that showed us how teamwork, experiential learning, and creativity can change the world:

  • The GeoScientists, fifth graders from Arizona who designed a “river sweeper,” which collects plastic debris from rivers. Get to know the GeoScientists!
  • Team Marine, fifth graders from California who started a petition requiring local restaurants to replace plastic straws with straws made from cornstarch. Get to know Team Marine!
  • The Plastic Tacklers, eighth graders from Colorado who designed a product that catches plastic from waterways, eventually using that plastic as materials for housing projects and disaster relief efforts. Get to know the Plastic Tacklers!
  • Kids Against Pollution, seventh graders from Georgia who started an awareness campaign at their school surrounding the harmful effects of fishing materials in waterways. The team also wrote a children’s book about this topic. Get to know the Kids Against Pollution!
  • Team Stickers, eighth graders from Idaho who focused their project on encouraging produce growers to replace plastic stickers with a biodegradable version. Get to know Team Stickers!
  • No SACS in the Ocean, fifth graders from Iowa who worked with their school administration to replace plastic utensil packets with reusable metal utensils. Get to know team No SACS in the Ocean!
  • Team Opportunity, eighth graders from Kansas who came up with a solar-powered device called “Trashi,” which collects plastic debris from a tributary to Lake Ontario. Get to know Team Opportunity!
  • Plastic Police from Wisconsin, fifth graders who worked to get their school to switch from plastic utensils to metal, and are now looking to motivate others to reduce single-use plastics through local community events and online challenges. Get to know team Plastic Police!
  • Pollution Solutions from Louisiana, sixth graders who came up with a net that catches debris but still allows marine life to pass safely through the Yangtze River. Get to know team Pollution Solutions!
GeoChallenge teams present their solution in the national competition last May. Photo by Mark Thiessen.
  • The Plastic Peeps, sixth graders from North Carolina who designed a program to put recycling bins in every room at their school. Get to know the Plastic Peeps!
  • Plastic Piranhas, fifth graders from Michigan who devised a plan to deploy a net in the Clinton River that would catch debris and plastic. Get to know the Plastic Piranhas!
  • The Nerd Herd, eighth graders from Pennsylvania who wrote and illustrated a book that educates young people about the risks of single-use plastics and how they affect our waterways. Get to know the Nerd Herd!
  • The Bayou Protectors, seventh graders from Texas who placed third in the national finals competition for their prototype net to prevent debris from entering stormwater grates. Get to know the Bayou Protectors!
  • The Pioneers, fifth through eighth graders from Missouri who placed second in the national finals competition for their filter device that prevents debris, microplastics, and toxins from entering stormwater drains in St. Louis, Missouri. Get to know the Pioneers!
  • The Navigators, fifth graders from New York won the GeoChallenge competition with their model of a device that would clean the Hudson River with filters to collect plastic debris. As the winners of the GeoChallenge, the team won a prize of $25,000 to implement their product. Get to know the Navigators!

Registration is now open for the 2019-2020 GeoChallenge! Sign your team up today and create your own solution to change the world. 

Janna Babad, 2019 National Geographic Society summer intern, wrote this article.

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