Students in Tijuana, Mexico begin an upcycling project to reduce plastic pollution in their community and support their future career paths.
Thinking Global, Doing Local
The United Nations reports that half of all plastic produced is designed for single use, and only 9% of plastic waste has ever been recycled. In the San Diego-Tijuana binational region, plastic pollution from the United States and Mexico impacts the health of residents in both countries. In addition, plastic pollution threatens our coastal wetland ecosystem.
Keeping the Tijuana River Watershed plastic-free is a challenge. Especially during the rainy season. Rain water flushes trash into the Tijuana River, which subsequently flows into the Tijuana Estuary. From the estuary it is then deposited into the Pacific Ocean. Ocean plastics not only harm wildlife but can eventually make their way into our bodies.
As a result, the binational community has developed creative solutions to retrieve the waste before it enters the sea. For example, the successful trash boom system capturing litter in Los Laurales Canyon.
However, once the plastic is removed from the environment, the question remains: what should be done with it?
Upcycling is a growing industry spurring from this need to make use of discarded plastics that would otherwise remain as pollutants.
Stewarding Scholarship and Sustainability
We determined that our students and their communities could benefit by being a part of the upcycling movement.
In order to make this a reality, The St. Augustine Foundation awarded ASF $150,000 to fund our plastic fighting initiative: Project Upcycle. Project Upcycle developed as a way to give ASF students more opportunities for learning and professional growth. Additionally, the project emphasizes ASF’s core values of service and community.
Project Upcycle has four main goals:
- Build student skills in preparation for their future careers
- Establish a student led business
- Promote recycling culture
- Inspire others!
Students will collect discarded plastics in their community, and upcycle the waste into “new” finished products. Then, they will market and sell the upcycled products.
The process of developing an upcycled product requires students to design, test and experiment with plastics and manufacturing tools. Furthermore, beyond technical training the students will learn valuable skills in entrepreneurship.
Project Upcycle brings both sides of the border together.
Engineering students of Professors Odesma Dalrymple and Caroline Baillie (co-founder of Waste for Life) of the University of San Diego, and Nadia Nieblas of CETYS University in Tijuana, are collaborating to support ASF students and make the project a truly binational effort.
Renovation of the workshop space is taking place in Tijuana, while in San Diego, the ASF team prepares to fit the workshop with the necessary tools for ASF students to begin experimenting.
In sum, Project Upcycle has great potential to transform the lives of ASF students and their communities, and serve as a model for others to create change.
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