Youth Using Trash to Give Back to Wildlife with Big Results


Witnessing the harm humans inflict on the natural world in person can have a massive impact on the way we understand issues and are motivated to take action. What we may think is a problem somewhere else, quickly becomes something in our own backyard that cannot be ignored. Members of the Roots & Shoots group B.I.R.D. (Beauty, Innovation, Respect, Discovery) found this out firsthand when they decided to visit an illegal dumpsite in their community. Seeing was not only believing in this case, it was also the start of impressive solutions.  

Using the Roots & Shoots 4-Step Formula, beginning with getting inspired and discussing problems that impact their area, B.I.R.D. members then used the second step – community mapping – to better assess those issues. They found an excessive number of illegal dumpsites in their local area, and that these sites exist in places home to wildlife. 

The B.I.R.D. members took action. Continuing to follow the Roots & Shoots Formula, they created and implemented a project plan to clean up a dumpsite in their area to remove as much trash as they could. Not only did they reduce the threat to local wildlife, but they decided to also upcycle the materials they found. Living up to their group name, B.I.R.D. members created bird houses and bird feeders out of the trash they collected.  

Unfortunately, illegal disposal of trash is fairly common, especially as global human populations grow and waste likewise increases. Approximately 40% of plastic produced every year is disposable, most commonly used as packaging which is discarded shortly after an items purchase. 

91% of plastics have never been recycled.

While more trash is entering the waste stream, some communities do not have adequate services to pick it up and process it. In many places, the costs of recycling are increasing, and unclear waste management encourages some to dispose of their trash in illegal dumping sites. 

Evelyn Rivas, teacher and mentor to this B.I.R.D. Roots & Shoots group, is familiar with the issue of illegal dumping. She has lead previous projects such as Wasteland, too where students made art out of trash found in these sites. Often our recycled materials do not end up where we’d like to think they do, so repurposing our trash and trying to reduce the amount of waste we produce can be a better solution than simply throwing something in the bin labeled “recycling.” 

B.I.R.D. Roots & Shoots members were disgusted and angry when they saw how much trash existed in the dumpsite they visited and how it was ruining the natural environment. It may be disheartening at first but witnessing problems in person can ultimately help us gain a necessary and realistic understanding of the issues we face, causing us to be more motivated to help solve them. Embracing the last step of the 4-step formula, these Roots & Shoots members were able to celebrate their work by knowing their efforts to help local wildlife were realized and would continue through the bird houses and feeders that they built out of trash. 

For tips on how to reduce your waste, click here. 

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About Author

Anne is a Community Engagement Intern at the Jane Goodall Institute for the summer of 2019. She is majoring in Environmental Studies at Eckerd College, with a minor in Film Studies. Anne is passionate about encouraging youth to get involved in their local community, and emphasizing Jane’s message that every individual makes a difference. In her free time, she loves paddle-boarding, kayaking, or any other activity on the water!