Kids may be out of school for the summer, but that doesn’t mean BRING has put its image3mission to teach students and community members about the impacts of waste on hold. Our various education programs are still going strong thanks to partnerships with great organizations like Willamalane.

Teaching people about reuse and recycling has been a core part of our mission since we were founded in 1971. Since that time BRING has presented thousands of free educational seminars at K-12 schools, churches and community groups.

For the past two years BRING’s environmental educators have been presenting short, fun workshops to kids in Willamalane’s summer day camps. The curriculum is very similar to what we do in classrooms during the school year. Lessons are hands-on, fun and short. They incorporate Common Core Standards and Oregon State Standards for social studies and science, and can be geared toward people at any age.

image1The three most commonly requested presentations are on the 4 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle and rot), vermicomposting with worms, and papermaking. Education and events manager Emily Shelton recent took the latter presentation to 10 elementary-school aged youth enjoying a morning of activities at a Springfield park.

At a picnic table under a tall tree, Shelton mixed brightly-colored paper particles with water in tubs. The absence of power at the park meant she couldn’t demonstrate the real first step in making paper, which is to shred it into a pulp (she does this with a blender, which is a great way to destroy the appliance, she notes).

But the bins of pink, turquoise and lime goo were enough to capture the campers’ attention. “Do we have to touch that?” asked one girl, looking dubious.

“You get to touch it!” Shelton replied. The response was a group “ewww.”

But once the demonstration started the kids got more enthusiastic. Shelton showed them image2how to pile a thin layer of pulp on top of a screen, spread it around, then place it on a piece of recycled newsprint. She used a sponge to draw out excess water. When most of the water was gone, she pulled up the screen to reveal the final product.

Once hearts, circles and rectangles in brilliant shades started to emerge, all hesitation vanished. “I’m going to make another one!” said the child who had kicked off the shrieking about getting her hands dirty, running off to get another screen.

“How do you think you can use your paper?” Shelton asked the campers as they continued making paper. One person thought she would color on it. Another thought she would use it to make cards.

image4When everyone was done with their paper, the sheets of newsprint went in the sun to dry. As Shelton started to clean up, she explained that the purpose of this workshop was to get kids thinking about unique ways to use everyday materials, as well as explain the basics of recycling and reuse. The message seems to have sunk in – at least to some extent.

“What did you learn today?” she asked before she left.

“You should never touch pulp without permission,” one responded.

“Yes… but what else?” Shelton asked.

“We learned about how paper is made,” says another child. “It’s pretty simple. All you need is blended wood and paper.”

“Do you know what happens when you send something like paper, glass or cans away to be recycled?” Shelton said.

“They take it and use it again and it keeps going,” says one person. “That’s a lifecycle.”

Building on that answer, Shelton made an effort to draw a connection between the paper they’d just made and the recycling process they participate in at home. Mills need raw materials to make paper. They can extract those raw materials from the earth by cutting down trees, or they can turn old paper into new and cut down fewer trees. The best way for them to get recycled paper is for people to be diligent about recycling paper at home. “By doing that you’re helping Mother Nature,” she said.

“What’s Mother Nature?” a child asked.

Obviously there’s still more work to be done to educate children about sustainability. But thanks to BRING’s many partnerships with school districts and community groups, that child might get another fun and inspiring from Shelton in the future.

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