Lincoln Elementary School students near completion of ecobrick project
ALPENA — Kindergartners through fifth graders round up for 35 minutes every day at Lincoln Elementary School to build 150 ecobricks. These students have been slowly creating a bench out of the bricks they have been crafting together all year and it’s almost ready.
Ecobricks are recyclable plastic bottles packed with clean and dry used plastic, according to the official ecobrick website. These bricks are reusable and meant to keep plastic from degrading into toxins that spread in the environment.
The fifth-grade teacher Maia Proulx has been leading the project that Title One Teacher Katie Thomson started. They both agreed they wanted the initiative to be run by a classroom, so Proulx volunteered herself and her fifth-grade class to take over.
With it being the fifth graders last year at the elementary school, together Proulx and Thomson wanted the students to do a project to remember and one day return to.
Proulx said when they initially were planning out the ecobrick project, they looked at recycling initiatives and what could be done at their own school to make a difference with reusing plastic and waste.
When doing their own research, Proulx and Thomson noticed there was nothing being done with ecobricks locally but found a similar project at Collingwood School located in Canada.
According to that school’s website, students used ecobricks to create furniture for the school to reduce the amount of plastic going into landfills and the environment.
After looking into Collingwood’s initiative, the idea of a collective effort for creating a bench ensued.
“We don’t have a dishwasher in the kitchen, we don’t have plastic reusable trays,” Proulx said. “And so, every day we’re throwing away the Styrofoam trays. And that really adds up. So, we thought, okay, what can we do to reduce our footprint?
And so, we did some research about some different projects, and discovered that we could take a lot of these soft plastics and things we’re using in the lunchroom to create something and build it for our school. And so that’s kind of what we did.”
All the waste that is used to stuff the plastic bottles comes from the school’s cafeteria.
Fifth grade student Blaike Blaski explained the process of gathering plastic for the ecobricks.
“Last week, we collected plastic and put it in water, and we were cleaning them. We collected trays, plastic sporks, spoons and knives. Then we put it in an ecobrick,” he said.
The overall process of creating an ecobrick can be a long one.
“[You] would start stuffing the two liters with your soft plastics like plastic bags or chip bags to make a solid foundation,” Proulx said. “And then once you had that formed, then you could rip up like Styrofoam or harder plastics and also shove them in using these dowels to pack it down firmly.
And you just keep going until that bottle is firm all the way around. Seal it off and use some liquid nails to structure it, put it together and there you have it.”
This is not something that takes just 10 minutes, Proulx said. There is a requirement for the specifical plastic materials as well as time and effort to be spent.
“A good solid brick could take someone up to an hour to make depending on what source materials you have,” she said. “So, it really takes some dedication to really make it solid.”
Proulx said the kids have struggled with getting sidetracked throughout the process due to how much time it can take. On a daily basis, there was not much getting accomplished. However, towards the end of this school year, the fifth graders “really stepped up” to finish the bench.
Fifth grade student Emilia Baker explained her motivation for working on the project.
“It’s not just plastics that are going all over the place, it is plastics that are being used for a good cause,” she said.
Proulx said one of the motivators she’s seen for most of the kids is knowing how the trash affects the wildlife species.
“They didn’t realize that until we started doing this project,” she said. “And knowing that they could have that impact was kind of what really inspired a lot of the kids to really keep going with it.”
Rozalyn Brousseau, a fifth grade student, said she doesn’t like people throwing trash into the ocean. Therefore, she enjoys working on this project because it saves animals from getting hurt.
The biggest outcome of the project is how much the fifth graders have taken ownership and found the building process to be relaxing, Proulx said.
Baker agreed and said making the ecobricks has been calming.
Blaski is most excited about being able to sit on the bench once it is completed, he said.
The project began on last year’s Earth Day with the previous fifth grade class. The students created ecobricks and labeled their names on it that are seen throughout the bench.
“They really were like, the founders of starting the project and getting it off the ground,” Proulx said. “And then we just kind of rolled with it this year after they took off.”
One of the students’ mothers in last year’s class was a volunteer coordinator for Pepsi. She was able to bring a trash bag containing 150 bottles from Pepsi to donate towards the project.
Proulx said the project, in all, took an entire school year to accomplish.
The students recently weighed the bottles they’ve filled with trash, Brousseau said.
“We weighed the bottles to see how many ounces we got, and we got 1,354 ounces of trash,” she said.
In total, the students have reused 85 pounds of plastic waste.
For the last week of school, the bench will be revealed to the entire student body and placed by the front entrance.
“It’s still kind of a new thing, you know, and we want to get the word out,” she said.
Proulx said she hopes the project will bring awareness to what can be done about reducing and reusing materials that have a negative impact on the environment.
“I’m [also] hoping that it inspires my students to really become like stewardship of the earth,” she said.
Lincoln Elementary will still probably have community service options after this year, Proulx said. She would like to continue this as a tradition of “taking care of the earth”, but next year’s initiative is still in the works.