Reduce, reuse, recycle: Ways to promote environmentalism this Earth Day


Harper Rosenberg and Sophie Rukin

“Earth day, it’s this moment to a day to stop and think about the planet as a whole and how we can survive and help the Earth itself to survive,” English teacher Rebecca Bahr said. 

Today is Earth Day, a holiday that takes place each year on April 22nd to demonstrate support for environmental protection, Bahr said. As a result of her experience witnessing the harmful effects of pollution in her neighborhood, such as no longer being able to swim in the Hudson River due to contamination, Bahr strongly appreciates Earth Day, she said.

“To me, Earth Day is really about awareness, and I think that’s really nice,” Elena Zhu (9) said. Zhu believes that awareness about the environment and climate change are important in order for positive change to occur, she said. 

“Climate change is something that’s really scary for our generation,” Zhu said.“As we grow older, I do believe Earth Day should be less about our own individual actions and very much more about awareness so we can actually work on the major issues that cause climate change.” 

Zhu believes that, while individual action against climate change should be encouraged, there is not enough focus on the efforts made by large enterprises or systems, she said. “When you do look into what’s mostly causing climate change, it is the major corporations,” Zhu said. “If we want to say something that would actually help the planet, we have to be the ones to stop supporting these corporations.”

Jake Ziman (11) also encourages large scale change, but is more optimistic about the effects of an individual’s actions, he said. “I know [that] last year, Green Week covered a lot about what we can do as individuals to change our habits or especially around food waste and purchasing,” he said. “Even [though] 400 kids deciding to buy less clothing isn’t going to have a worldwide impact, you’re never going to start changing everyone’s habits if you don’t start somewhere,” he said.

 However, Ziman is conflicted about the impact of Earth Day initiatives, he said. He appreciates efforts to dedicate the day to learning about the environment and spreading awareness about climate change, but would prefer more of an emphasis on action and engagement, he said.

Alara Yilmaz (10) is a member of Green HM, a club dedicated to promoting greater awareness about climate change. This week, Green HM hosted workshops to educate students about global warming, Yilmaz said. “It’s a great way for people who are passionate about this topic to come together and discuss changes to our school in general,” she said. “I don’t think climate change is at the front of everybody’s minds, even though I think it should be because it’s a very urgent issue, but this week will help it come back and bring awareness to the issue.”

On Thursday, Yilmaz and Tyler Rosenberg (10) hosted a Green Week workshop about an organization called The Ocean Clean Up, Yilmaz said. “It’s basically educating students on water pollution and ways they can help, then [there was] a Kahoot at the end.”

Rosenberg appreciates clubs that raise awareness about environmental issues, such as Eco 2 and Green HM, she said. “I wish Green Week was a full week because it’s just Thursday and Friday,” she said. “Having a full week would be better, but I think the steps that are being taken are good so far.”

Members of the faculty, such as science teacher Camilla Nivison, have implemented environmental themes into their lessons, Bahr said. “[Nivison] is doing workshops on environmental dangers and sort of these warning signs,” she said. “It’s great because it merges the class with Earth Week.”

Bahr wants to use her resources as an adult to help younger generations fight climate change, she said. “I’ve been the advisor [for Green HM] for about three or four years now and as an adult, just seeing more and more disasters happen,” Bahr said. “I felt like, ‘okay, I want to be with the kids who want to try and bring awareness and try and do some solutions, at least on a small scale in our own environment here at Horace Mann.’”

Students’ families also contribute toward protecting the environment. “We find ways to donate clothing or hand it to others,” Ziman said. “[We are also] very big on recycling and limiting food waste,” he said. His family is very mindful about what goes in the trash, and ensures that what they cannot save does not end up in a landfill, he said.

Zhu’s family also emphasizes reducing waste, she said. “We are very much a leftover based family, simply because of the fact that it’s so much more sustainable to constantly eat the food that you already have, instead of just throwing it out.”

In the school’s Lower Division (LD), students have recognized Earth Day by participating in activities such as planting flowers, Rosenberg said. 

In 2015, students in every grade in the Lower Division participated in activities ranging from studying butterfly cocoons to writing thank you notes to Earth and making crafts using recycled materials, Lenny Lane (10) said. Students also made wallets out of old milk cartons and scraps of paper, planted seeds on the Grasshopper and playground in reused bottles, and did a water taste test for tap versus bottled water to prove tap water tasted better, he said.

“In fifth grade, we used to put on a musical assembly about ways you can help the environment, we would all dress up,” Jack Chasen (10) said. “The Dorr staff [also] used to come and we’d [do] activities with them related to the environment, such as learning how to compost.”

While Ziman thinks that the school should be doing more to celebrate Earth Day, he believes that the school’s strength in helping the environment lies in spreading awareness about environmental issues and educating the younger generation, he said. “The impact the school can have by reducing our electricity use is relatively small in comparison to the impact the school can have educating us, who in 20 to 30 years will be making those decisions, about both the issues and ways forward.”

Although Bahr hopes the school will be able to provide an assembly specifically for Earth Day in the future, she is happy with how far the school has come, she said. “I think there’s been much more awareness of environmental issues in just the past ten years in the school,” she said.