Recycle, Re-use, Reduce: La Jolla Girl Scout’s ‘Gold’ project focuses on Three Rs

Pop quiz! Which of the following cannot be recycled in a City bin: Styrofoam containers, clean food containers or plastic toys?

Trick question. The answer is all three.

To educate the next generation of environmentalists (and their parents) about what can be re-used and recycled, La Jolla High School junior Kayla Nitahara hosted 15 workshops for children at the La Jolla Library last fall. The presentations, she hopes, will qualify her for a Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest achievement bestowed to Girl Scouts.

A Gold Award project must give the Scout a chance to demonstrate leadership through “Take Action” projects that have a sustainable impact on their communities and beyond.

To accomplish this, 16-year-old Kayla said she wanted to give children an eco-minded foundation, so they could lead more environmentally-friendly lives going forward. And she did it in a way that will hopefully stick: through arts and crafts.

“I’ve always been interested in crafts, we do a lot of them in Girl Scouts, and I know it’s a big appeal for kids,” she said. “I also knew if I were to just do a lecture, no kids would come. I wanted it to appeal to kids because talking to a younger audience can set them up for life with a new mindset. So I set up games and props. I’d give a little talk and then hold up an item and ask if it belonged in the recycling bin or the trash can?”

As a resource, she used the City of San Diego’s “What Goes Where” fact sheet, found at: sandiego.gov/environmental-services It outlines what goes in the trash can, recycling bin or compost bin.

After the “lectures,” Kayla would lead craft projects using reusable household items like plastic bottles and papers. “I wanted to focus on how to reduce household waste because that’s important,” she explained. “Recycling is also important, but it’s expensive and can take an environmental toll. Even taking a plastic bag and re-using it can help.

“Americans produce over 250 million tons of municipal waste a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Paper and plastic make up 40 percent of our landfills, so anything we can do to use what we already have, and avoid buying more paper and plastic, we should definitely do.”

As for the long-term fun factor, she added, “The way I see it, if kids learn to do these crafts, their parents probably already have all the materials they need at home, rather than having to go out and buy one-time-use materials.”

After the workshops, in accordance with Gold Award requirements, participants were given a survey to see how much information they retained. These surveys will go into a binder Kayla will submit as part of the project. She will also create a step-by-step guide to leave at the library, so the project can be repeated by any interested volunteer.

“I volunteer at the library, so I really wanted it to be a part of this project,” she said. “Youth Services Librarian Angie Stava really helped me out.”

Of Kayla’s work, Stava said: “Her friendliness and approachability quickly earned her a group of devoted young fans here at the library, who were eager to attend her workshops. While the direct environmental impact of programs like Kayla’s can be difficult to measure, I’m confident the participants left each session with an increased awareness about environmental issues — including practical steps they can take to help the environment. Many parents thanked Kayla and the library for holding the workshops. She did a great job!”

Next, Kayla will submit her project for Gold Award consideration, and should hear in the next few months whether her project qualifies.

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