Interview of Kevin Nugent by Meg Hansen

Middle school science teacher Kevin Nugent does his part to lessen his carbon footprint. For one, he commutes by bike from Denver to Boulder every day. Like many of us, he is inspired by @GretaThuneberg, the 16-year-old climate and environmentalist activist who brought world attention to saving our climate. While it can be overwhelming for our students to tackle climate issues on Greta’s level, Kevin wanted to show them how we can lessen our impact on the world. 

“Bring me your trash!” Kevin asked of his students. 

His objective was to show students how much trash our small representation of humankind produces, and disposes of, in a short period of time. He handed out trash bags to each student and asked them to collect two days’ worth of everything that they would normally throw away, compost, recycle or repurpose and put it in their bag. They filled their bags,tracked, and graphed their items separately by category: trash, compostable, recyclable, plastic.

At the end of the second day, 37 bags were piled into the home room and weighed together for a total of 26 pounds.  

Their realization: they created a lot of trash! While Kevin did not want to alter their behavior ahead of the project, he did. During the two-day experiment, one student ate everything at every meal because he didn’t want to throw a single crumb into the bag. Another student skipped the plastic bottle of water and used a glass instead. One asked to buy a larger container of concentrated powder drink mix rather than 24 bottles of pre-mixed drink. 

The students explored the subject further through the documentary “The Story of Stuff”. They learned that food is an enormous drain on resources – all that it takes to grow, package, transport, store, refrigerate, and generate the chemicals to preserve it if necessary – just to throw much of it away. Students learned for every 1 can of garbage that we drag to the curb, there are 9 cans “upstream” trash created to produce everything that we just threw away. Only 34% of what we recycle is actually used again. Only 9% of plastic is recycled. The rest form one of the 5 major ocean gyres, each the approximate size of Texas. The contents of these plastics crash into each other and then become microplastics, which are small enough to enter the water system and thus affect sea life, the water we drink and the air we breathe.  

The students wanted to do more than just collect their waste for two days What more could they do to help? Their raised awareness is definitely impacting how they consume and discard. They are also making bricks of plastic they would have previously thrown away. During last year’s 8thgrade trip to Costa Rica, Kevin learned from their guide how to tightly pack plastic bottles with trash, making them so dense that they can be used as bricks to create structures. Middle schoolers are making their own bricks, lots of them, to turn into something such as a bench, a new gaga pit, sculpture, art, chair, or perhaps…a bike locker for Kevin.

Challenging minds. Nurturing spirits. Honoring individuality.