Watch CBS News

Suburban Chicago fifth graders take on mission to keep plastic out of landfills

Suburban Chicago youngsters are making the grade in recycling
Suburban Chicago youngsters are making the grade in recycling 03:14

SOUTH ELGIN, Ill. (CBS) -- Some fifth graders in South Elgin are making a difference by targeting the environment.

The kids from Corron Elementary School in Community Unit School District 303 have put together a recycling program that is keeping about 100 pounds of plastic from reaching landfills weekly in their community. Every Friday, the kids collect and weigh all the plastic they have gathered throughout the week to be recycled.

Throughout the week, the plastic is assembled in bags that are placed in front of every classroom. It all ends up in Mr. Robinson's classroom – which doubles as a recycling hub.

Mr. Robinson teaching fifth graders at Corron Elementary School. Corron Elementary School

"This started out as a few plastic bags from our snack," said teacher Erik Robinson.

The lesson on recycling has grown into a full-fledged weekly operation.

Bags are brought in from home – because the kids care.

"I thought that it was really bad that we're doing all this to the environment, and we should change our ways," said Corron fifth-grader Vihaan Sadhasivan.

"We've really learned so much about protecting the environment and how big of an issue plastic is," said fifth-grader Audrey Beleski.

Plastic recycling in Mr. Robinson's class at Corron Elementary School. CBS 2

The kids have the entire school on board - collecting everything from the typical plastic shopping bag to small plastic wrappers. The impact reaches far outside the school building.

"The coolest thing is being able to give them a skill that they can use to make their world a better place," Mr. Robinson said with a smile on his face, "and I am so proud to be their teacher."

Partnering with a company called Trex on his own time, Mr. Robinson fills his car with plastic bags weekly. The plastic collected eventually becomes recycled plastic lumber, which is made into useful items such as coat racks and even benches.

A bench made from the plastic the youngsters had collected is now on display right in Mr. Robinson's classroom.

"When that bench showed up and those kids saw what their plastic had made, they were over the moon," Robinson said.

So far this school year, this class has collected more than 1,200 pounds of plastic. Some are from school, but the kids bring most from home – from friends, family, and neighbors.

"If we didn't collect it, there would be over 1,000 pounds in an ocean that can harm ocean life - or in a landfill that can cause air pollution," said fifth-grader Brianna Martinez.

The students know what plastic in the ocean can look like.

"The Pacific garbage patch is the biggest patch of garbage in the world," said Vihaan. "I don't like seeing pictures of it."

They also know what efforts to keep plastic out of the ocean look like.

"They look at mounds of plastic in my classroom, and they know they kept 150 pounds of plastic out of our oceans out of our landfills," said Robinson.

With no plans to stop, the youngsters are already planning out a recycling program at the junior high to which they will move to next year for sixth grade.

"Even if you're 10 years old, you can do something to help," Robinson said.

And it turns out quite a bit can be learned from a walk down the halls of an elementary school – and a conversation with a fifth grader.

"The future generation will be able to have a better, easier life if you recycle now," said Vihaan.

"If you want to live on this planet longer, we need to start doing something about it," said Audrey.

Mr. Robinson's class at Corron Elementary school with CBS 2 Climate Watch Reporter Tara Molina and Photographer DeAndra Taylor. Corron Elementary School

The goal of the program is to reach 2,000 pounds of plastic by the end of the school year.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.