Seventh grader Jared Cummings was at his home about to throw away a few dead batteries when he began to wonder.
Wouldn’t the chemicals in the batteries seep into the soil and harm the environment?
“So I did some research and got the facts about how to dispose of batteries properly,” said Jared, now a ninth grader at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, Calif. “I realized that if I didn’t know about the importance of recycling rechargeable batteries, then maybe other people didn’t either.”
This was the genesis of a community outreach project that earned Sycamore Canyon Middle School first place in the 2008 Edison Challenge. The same school in Newbury Park placed second in the 2009 Edison Challenge for a project on energy conservation involving light bulbs. Teacher Drew Haver led that team.
The environmental science competition is a partnership of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, housed in USC College, and Edison International.
The students’ 2008 entry, a community service campaign and lesson plan, was judged the best of projects submitted by 30 teams from 15 middle schools. In the high school category, Gabrielino High School in San Gabriel placed first that year and again in 2009.
Sycamore teacher Pamela Bluestein, the 2008 winning team advisor, gave all the credit to her students.
“They sent out surveys, set a collection date, sent out notices, went out into the community to pick up old batteries, then took them to a place to be recycled,” Bluestein recounted.
In all, students collected 2,400 batteries. But that’s not where the project ended.
“Then, they designed a PowerPoint lesson about battery disposal and presented it to fourth graders,” Bluestein said. “The students pretty much did everything on their own.”
The program began in 2006 when Edison pledged $1 million over four years, its largest-ever environmental education grant. The community-based initiative was designed to educate and uphold Edison’s long-standing commitment to preserving and protecting the environment.
Jared said it was easy to get students behind the project.
According to a recent report, Americans throw away roughly 84,000 tons of alkaline batteries and make up approximately 20 percent of the hazardous waste materials found in landfills in the form of A, AA, AAA, and C size. The batteries come from children’s toys and handheld games. It is also estimated that 3 million batteries are purchased each year in the United States used to power cell phones, hearing aids, hand held games, watches, laptop computers, radios, toys and power tools, just to name a few battery operated electronics.
The Sycamore students learned all these facts while researching batteries. During lunch and after school, they practiced their presentation, which included a short play they performed before fourth graders.
In addition to the satisfaction of helping the environment, the six students’ and Bluestein’s efforts were rewarded with a seven-day trip to the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island. At Catalina, they snorkeled, kayaked, hiked and learned about marine biology.
“We hiked up a mountain,” Jared recalled. “It was a long and very steep climb, but the view from the top was breathtaking.”
But Jared’s best memories involved learning about the environment, energy conservation and recycling.
“Chemicals from eroding batteries could also leak into any underground water source,” he emphasized. “That would be detrimental to people, plants, animals and the environment.”
Read more about the Edison Challenge:
The Worth of Water
For the second consecutive year, Gabrielino High School placed first in the 2009 Edison Challenge, a partnership between Edison International and USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences’ Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.