Kohala Middle School students’ battery recycling solution comes out on top

Hawaii Independent Staff

HAWAII ISLAND—On average, each person in the United States discards eight dry-cell batteries per year. Most batteries are made up of toxic heavy metals, which can include nickel, mercury, and lead.

Improperly disposed batteries can potentially contaminate our water supply as the metals vaporize into the air when burned, contribute to heavy metals that leach from landfills, and expose the environment and water to lead and acid.

In the rural areas of Kapaau on Hawaii Island, the community is isolated with limited access to recycling options.

It took the keen eyes and hard work of a team of students from Kohala Middle School to recognize that there was no opportunity to recycle household batteries, particularly, at their recycle center and that there was lack of information for community members on the potential hazards of batteries.

Along with their mentor Lani Bowman, the students conducted research and instituted a battery recycling project. The team won first place for their efforts in the middle school division of the Siemen We Can Change the World Challenge.

To read their project proposal, click here

As part of the challenge, the students were asked to identify an environmental issue in their community, research the issue using scientific investigation, and create a replicable green solution using web-based curriculum tools powered by Discovery Education. More than 2,800 middle school students across the nation participated in the challenge.

Kohala Middle School students Isabel Steinhoff, Rico Bowman, Genevieve Boyle, and Mina Apostadiro, along with their mentor Lani Bowman, set out to collect 6,000 (the approximate population of North Kohala) household batteries in 60 days. They chose to focus on the disposal of household batteries, as there were no local opportunities to recycle them. The team, named “6000 n 60,” reached their goal and will now use their findings to lobby for better household battery recycling opportunities in the United States.

The students predicted that if they gave people local opportunities to recycle batteries, provided information on environmental harm, and provided tips on how to better use batteries, their community would become more conscientious in their use and disposal of batteries.

Team “6000 n 60” planned and implemented an advanced community awareness and recycling campaign by sharing information through school bulletins, school assemblies, posters, and PSAs.

The project included distributing pre- and post-survey to gauge community awareness on the issue designing a logo, creating t-shirts, and distributing promotional material to raise awarennss and increase participation throughout the community.

They also set out recycling bins in the community, presented their recycling project to local organizations, hosted a community kickoff event, and utilized social media by creating a Facebook page.

Each member of the winning team received a first place prize of: $10,000 Savings Bond, a Discovery adventure trip, a pocket video camera, and a Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge green prize pack.

The team’s mentor received: a Discovery adventure trip, free registration to the next NSTA National (or Area) Conference, hotel accommodations for three nights at the conference, a pocket video camera, a one-year membership to NSTA, and a Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge green prize pack.

With the final data analyzed, Team “6000 n 60” presented program highlights and data in a PowerPoint to the Hawaii County Environmental Management Commission on this morning in Hilo.

Rep. Mark Nakashima honored Team “6000 n 60” with a congratulatory certificate from the Hawaii State Legislature at the meeting.

“This is a great achievement for Kohala Middle School and our community,” Nakashima said. “I’m so proud of these students for creating this recycling effort that can be replicated by other communities on our island and in our state.”

The students and their mentor believe the project findings can help to develop larger and more effective battery recycling efforts for the County, State, and even the nation.

“The project allowed students to engage in a process that extended their learning beyond the four walls of the classroom and provided a venue for students to realize the potential that lies within each one of them,” said Kohala Middle School Principal Janette Snelling. “Much appreciation is extended to Ms. Lani Bowman who was a driving force in igniting the passion and extending the vision of the powerful influence that youth can have in truly making a difference.”