Cleaning up after themselves

Liam Taylor surveyed a large pile of conked-out computers, televisions and cell phones like a fisherman admiring his catch.

As the founding president of Imagine Green Eco Club, he spent weeks imploring the community to drop off unused or spent appliances at the club’s inaugural e-waste collection and recycling event Saturday at Luther Burbank Middle School.

The goal, he said, was to prevent toxic and hazardous materials from clogging landfills and polluting the environment.

“We have a lot of e-waste in the city, and I don’t want all those chemicals [leeching] into the drinking water or killing animals,” said Liam, a sixth-grader. “If you want clean drinking water, if you want animals to be around, you need to think about recycling.”

Liam and his friends peddled that message to all corners of the city before teaming with the eWaste Center to host the collection. They hit the farmers market, told friends and their parents, and last week took their cause before the City Council.

Some of the roughly 200 visitors who dropped off several truckloads of aged equipment — including a washer and dryer, flat-screen televisions and discarded video games — were shocked to find their hosts so young. But what the group lacks in years it more than makes up for in pluck, said Julie Ann Taylor, a service learning manager at Tree People, a nonprofit environmental agency.

Though Liam credits his “green streak” to his mother, advisor and sixth-grade science teacher Jamie Wisehaupt was quick to point out that the eco club is almost entirely student organized.

Since founding the club in September, members have floated the idea of lobbying officials to impose a citywide ban on plastic shopping bags, and have adopted the campus moniker “It’s cool to be a green kid,” said Taylor Durbin, 11.

“I really think we should do more to help our environment — for our generation and the next,” Taylor said. “We’re really poisoning the Earth right now.”

Among the messages she’s spread to classmates are: Turn off the lights in unoccupied rooms; don’t leave the faucet running while brushing your teeth; and plant trees when possible.

“I feel great because I know I am doing something to help the environment,” she said. “It makes me feel special because of that.”

And they don’t plan to stop there, said Wisehaupt, who coordinates the school’s gardening program and referred to the club’s efforts as “kid powered.” Members hope their involvement spurs similar efforts in every elementary, middle and high school in the Burbank Unified School District.

“It’s so cool because we don’t typically have a level of involvement like this from sixth-graders,” Wisehaupt said. “It puts them in a leadership role.”

Angelo Boccuzzi, 11, listed his love of animals as reason enough to “spread the message to be eco-friendly.

“I want to be able to see polar bears and tigers by the time I’m 50,” Angelo said. “And I want my children to be able to see them, too.”

In the garden, the students help Wisehaupt and others trap rainwater in barrels for later use. They’re also supporting an effort to plant roughly a dozen trees this spring to mark the birthday of Luther Burbank.

The goal, particularly with students who might not be as self-starting, is to get them started early “so by the time they reach high school they’re already familiar,” Taylor said.

“A lot of kids don’t feel like they have a voice and a choice,” she said.

Mariana Robles, 11, said she’s applied the lessons at home, and finds herself instructing her parents on the car ride from club meetings.

“My mom spreads the word around,” Mariana said. “And so does my dad.”

For more information about the eco club, visit http://imaginegreenecoclub.com.


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