Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Losing Trash and Finding Gas with Innovative Green Kids

July 26, 2008 Leave a comment

When I was a kid in elementary school, my teacher asked each student to invent something. For weeks, I racked my brain. I couldn’t think of anything and dreaded the day my invention was due.

Back then in the early 80’s, the environment was starting to be an issue. Although the movement did not have nearly the same momentum that it has today and was not yet tagged “Green”, we were already talking about recycling and that one day we’d run out of oil. Most people had finally stopped throwing McDonald’s bags out of car windows, but they still tossed stuff in their big, green, city trash cans (their “Herbie Curbies”) that could have been recycled.

So with recycling on my mind, a day before the invention was due I scrambled and threw together what I thought was enough to get me a B. It was a compartmentalized “Green” Herbie Curbie. To model it, I used a plastic storage container from Wal-Mart and lined it with green construction paper. (One sort of shaped like this). I divided it into quadrants. One corner quadrant of the receptacle was labeled for recycling paper, one for recycling glass, one for recycling aluminum cans and the other was for all other trash. My “Green” Herby Curbie was meant to be matched to a city trash truck that would hook into Herbie’s four components and send each to different bins in the truck. With my invention, one truck could do the job of four!

OK, so it wasn’t revolutionary, but it didn’t exist at the time. And the important thing was my teacher counted it as an invention, and I got an “A.”

The uninhibited quality that kids have (and their desire to get a passing grade) makes them especially adept at thinking of unique, yet simple and sometimes obvious, ways to solve problems, and environmental problems are no exception. Like when Associated Content contributor Charlotte Kuchinsky asked a seven year old boy, “What should Americans do about the gas shortage?” The boy’s simple answer was:

Figure out how to make a new kind of gas out of all the trash they keep complaining about.

Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that? Well, because I know I’m not a chemist, and I’d have to go get a Chemistry degree to begin to tackle that problem, so my brain just shuts it out before I even can think of it. But kids don’t think this way and what’s great is that they have a lifetime to learn whatever they need to execute their plan.

Some amazing kids have even gone past just thinking of new ways to tackle environmental problems, but have been resourceful and successful in testing and proving them. In recent news, 16-year-old Canadian Daniel Burd created a way to decompose plastic bags in about 3 months with nothing but yeast, household chemicals and tap water. His science fair experiments have turned out to be ground-breaking in our fight to manage waste and protect our environment. It’s remarkable when you think that he’s only sixteen and has made such a huge breakthrough in a complicated problem.

There was nothing complicated about my Green Herbie Curbie invention. No sophisticated physics or chemistry was needed, just a unique perspective on how we use the things we already have. It would have required a lot of work though:

  • getting the city to change their bins and their trucks – not an easy feat
  • prototyping a new bin – something I didn’t know where to begin looking
  • learning how trash trucks actually work – admittedly, not very high on my list of interests

Looking back, I wonder how far I would have gotten if I’d had the business skills or a Junior Achievement chapter to help me create a plan for the Herbie Curbie. Would I have helped to transform the way our city collected trash?

I will be eagerly awaiting the rest of Daniel’s story to unfold to see how far he takes his discovery. He’ll most likely become a leading scientist. But I can’t help but wonder if he will take his talent a step further and set-up a business. And if so, what will his business model look like? And how much impact will it have on our environment? Will it revolutionize how we handle our trash?


  1. Kids Tackle the Gas Shortage Issue” by Charlotte Kuchinsky, Associated Content
  2. WCI student isolates microbe that lunches on plastic bags” by Karen Kawawada, The