By Ashley Stoney

More than 350,000 students joined their families and teachers last weekend at the 4th USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. SPI teamed with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Society of Plastics Engineers(SPE) to co-sponsor  a booth which featured a competition for small groups to clean up litter in record-time on an imaginary beach, with the help of the Rozalia Project, and  plastics-focused experiments led by Plastivan and UMass Lowell student volunteers. Each group that participated had the opportunity to walk away with an in-demand litter grabber, a plastic sample, which they made, and a photo taken by Hector the Collector, an underwater robot which can take photos and collect underwater litter.

The exhibit was, by all accounts, one of the most popular booths in the crowded exhibit hall, teaching elementary, middle and high school students about the importance of proper recycling and getting them excited about the science behind making plastics through a hands-on experiment. Parents and their kids waited for, at times, more than 90 minutes for a chance to participate in the recycling contest (to ultimately take home the free litter-grabber).

“Volunteers did a good job of teaching families about why materials are, or are not, recyclable,” said Katie Masterson, SPI senior program manager of industry affairs’ equipment council.

Say what you want about the younger generation, but there certainly hasn’t been a demographic in this country’s history that’s as environmentally engaged as they are. Festival visitors were pumped to be a part of the simulated beach cleanup and most were already well-versed on how to recycle and why it’s important.

“Our booth was about recycling and cleaning up our oceans, which is why I think it was so popular,” said Adrienne Remener, SPI database specialist, alluding to the fact that the kids who participated felt that they were doing their civic duty to help impact the environment around them.

By creating an experience that combined education, friendly competition and the in-demand giveaways which enabled kids to walk away with tools that can help them continue to make an impact well after they leave the booth, kids, parents and teachers walked away informed, entertained and empowered.

Our SPI staff volunteers loved watching children get excited about plastics.