Pick any item – a shirt (cotton or polyester?), microwave oven, aluminum lawn chair, lawn mower (gas or electric), outdoor barbeque, basketball, bicycle, or cell phone. Where did every raw material and component come from? Were the people and their families who mined or synthesized each item allowed to enjoy benefits from their labors, and was no harm done to their health and environment? The same questions arise during assembly and manufacturing; and, were exposure safeguards in place during these processes? What about the cardboard, paper, tape, and protective wrappings used during packaging and shipping, and the costs of transporting them to Ithaca? And, finally, what actually happens to each component during the recycling or waste disposal process?
Words Into Deeds is partnering with Finger Lakes ReUse and student groups, grades K-20, to promote greater awareness on the part of these youth and their community of the immediate and hidden costs, both financially and environmentally, of producing, packaging, transporting, using, then either disposing of or reusing common commercial goods. The project aligns with Sustainable Development Goal #12: Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, and broadly intersects with other goals as shown below. All represent unprecedented challenges to current and future generations.
Finger Lakes ReUse is a local not for profit founded in 2008 that embraces the concept that reconditioning and reusing are more cost-effective and much better for the environment than discarding https://ithacareuse.org/. Donated items are restored and if needed repaired, including electronics, then sold at minimal costs primarily to lower income clientele. In 2017 over 100,000 visits were recorded at their two sites in Ithaca. ReUse additionally provides job training opportunities, and recently launched a community funding program that links with local service providers to provide lower costs for essential items. ReUse has been awarded a NY-DEC Environmental Justice Community Impact Grant that includes financial support for an educational component.
Students begin with a study and discussions of key human rights documents, using for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and workshops on social justice and equity, using the metaphor of a Ladder of Prejudice. Practical applications are introduced by examination of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, followed by a focus on the many facets of SDG #12.
The specific topic of research is each student’s choice. They might investigate the complete life of an apparently “simple” item such as a pair of jeans or something more complex, identifying the origins of all components, their assembly into a consumer product followed by packaging and transportation to markets, and finally disposal alternatives. For each stage they will determine energy expenditures, effects on the environment, and impacts on persons and societies. Students’ research and project design aided by consultations with experts, and require interdisciplinary approaches that align with NY State STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) initiatives.
An important component of each student’s project is bringing findings to broader audiences. In addition to activities with staff and clients in the ReUse stores, student are expected to make presentations to their peers, community groups, and media outlets. In so doing, each participant gains skills and develops a heightened awareness of the important role that informed, engaged young citizens can play in affecting community actions.