Stewardship to the Environment: a Zero Waste Student Shares

Written by Ian Cuevas

April 18, 2022

Celebrating Earth Day: Lessons About Zero Waste

The WSSD’s vision states: “We enthusiastically work and serve in the world community as stewards of social renewal.”  This work toward change includes both social justice and environmental justice.

While there are many students, staff and family members in our community who work toward these aspirations, there is one WSSD HS student who has lived such a life as part of the Zero Waste Family.  With Earth Day approaching, high school freshman, Isabella Syren, takes some time to share some of her thoughts and aspirations.

Earth Day Lessons from a Zero Waste Student

The word, “zero waste,” means to produce no waste. So, for my family, it means that if we can’t reuse it, compost it or recycle it, we will refuse it and just not buy it. So, when you have extra food scraps, you compost it, or when you’re at the store and you could choose between paper or plastic, you would pick paper.

We do everything other people do like shop, eat at restaurants, wear makeup and travel, we just make conscious decisions to reduce our carbon footprint at the same time.

EARTH DAY is celebrated annually across the world on April 22nd.  After a two year hiatus due to Covid, EarthFair will happen again at Balboa Park on April 24th, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm; it is the largest annual free environmental event in the world.

So, my family went zero waste when I was 9 years old, and at the time I did not think too much of it, but as I started noticing that not many other people were doing this, it started feeling cool and some people even looked up to me.

As a shy person, at first, it was weird but then it got normal for me.  But I think the main reason I wanted to live as sustainably as possible was because of everything I have learned from reading articles and watching documentaries about climate change and how waste is polluting the earth.  Even at only 9 years old, I knew I wanted to do something about climate change.

As a teenager, people always think it must be harder for me, but it’s not. Right now, most teenagers love to go thrift shopping, and to be honest that makes a difference and is more sustainable than buying brand new things. The clothing industry, especially fast fashion, is a huge contributor to climate change.

Also, as teenagers in Waldorf, most of us pack our own lunches for school and this is also a way others and `I help since most of us pack lunch in reusable Tupperware and instead of plastic bags, use reusable cloth bags.

Tips for Going Zero Waste

Some everyday tips that I have for other people, teens or adults alike, are when you are offered a snack in a plastic wrapper, just say no thank you, or when you are at the store and there is a bulk section, but you decide to be lazy and just get the prepackaged rice. Just take that extra time to grab a reusable bag and walk over to the bulk section and get your rice.

Or also if you don’t feel like cooking at night and you want to get take-out- food, call the restaurant ahead of time and ask if you can bring your own containers to put the take-out food in. Yes, at first it might be weird or embarrassing, but just do it and always give a nice tip and ask nicely. You will feel good about it, and after you do it once you can do it a million times over. `Buy most things used like clothes, shoes, furniture, surfboards, wet suits, bikes and etc.

Even at only 9 years old, I knew I wanted to do something about climate change.

Isabella Syren

Zero Waste Student

Ideas for Zero Waste Schools and Families

So, Waldorf overall is pretty zero waste; in Waldorf we are encouraged to make stuff from scratch and we learn a lot of nature, cooking and gardening.  We bring our own little lunch baskets and reusable containers to put our lunch in every day, and we are also learning a lot about the earth by having gardening classes at least once a week where we hand on learn about where our food comes from. But we are also taught about our planet and climate change and how to make a difference both in our community and for the planet.

Personally, I think that the Waldorf School lower school and high school are doing a great job with the concept of zero waste, the only thing that I would change is having recycling and compost bins more accessible to all students and staff.

My mom previously wrote a book called Zero Waste for Families. In the book you can find practical tips, recipes and resources for how  you can reduce waste and live most sustainable and save money at the same time along with your family.  I wrote a chapter in the book talking about my experience as a zero-waste teen, I talk about my journey to becoming zero waste and how I felt about it. I also share tips for teenagers how they can help their friends and family to reduce waste and how you can be fashionable but still zero waste. You can learn more about my family at zerowastefamily.com as well as purchase our book. We are also in a documentary called Zero Time to Waste which you can watch for free on our website.

I will graduate high school in a little less than 4 years, and my dream is to become an astronaut. I want to be a computer scientist and botanist who grows plants in space on other planets or on the International Space Station. Many people may say that the space program doesn’t do anything towards climate change, but that is actually not true, the people on the International Space Station (ISS) monitor the earth 24/7, and do research about weather patterns and climate change.

Recently, at the Waldorf School High School, we had an Earth Justice Day where all the members of both gardening and social justice presented a small demo on climate problems and how we can both fix and help them. 

EARTH JUSTICE DAY 2022 at WSSD:
More than 75 percent of young people say the future is frightening because of climate change.  This can lead to real anxiety with teens.   So Fredrika and I will talk about how individual actions matter and can bring hope and change.  They will share easy tips that teenagers can do themselves to reduce waste and have a lighter impact on the planet. Knowledge and action leads to teens feeling more in control because they can participate in the solution.

James Harker

Zero Waste Family Dad

Personally, I think it got a lot of people who do not normally think about these issues to start thinking about them. I think it was a great experience overall and should be an annual thing each year, and hopefully next year we can have an even bigger crowd. I think lots of kids worry about climate change so `I think it was good for everyone to work on this project and to learn about what the solutions are and that there is hope.

Special thanks to Amanda Womble, Heather Scott, the HS Gardening students, the HS Social Justice students, and the Zero Waste Family.

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