Yukon Montessori School Battles Plastic Pollution

 Luca, Tammo, Elliott, Ben, Asher and Owen of Yukon Montessori School are visualizing solutions to environmental issues through Cosmic Education


When discussing the global plastic pollution crisis – and it is a crisis – things can often seem bleak. That’s not the case at Yukon Montessori School, where in Kelly Scott’s Lower Elementary class, the future looks bright. Very bright. Through Cosmic Education, the class is utilizing their creative energy to imagine solutions to global plastic waste.

What is Cosmic Education? It is one of the pillars of the Montessori system. Maria Montessori called it the path through which children develop a global vision. By developing gratitude for the universe and their own lives within it, children can begin to understand their role, purpose, and responsibility in society.

Plastic production has many associated negative externalities (costs) that will only worsen as consumption surges.


Since the 1960s, plastic production has increased twenty-fold. Plastic production uses 6% of the world’s oil resources. By 2050, it will account for 20% of global oil use. It is a material that lasts forever, but is mostly used for items that are destined for a single-use. As a result, we waste 95% of the value of our plastics each year. What’s more, vast amounts of these single-use items escape collection and are wreaking havoc on our ecosystems. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight).

After hearing about the growing problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, and learning about 4 Ocean, an initiative to clean up marine plastic pollution, Scott’s class decided to create a project that could illustrate the dangers of plastic pollution to others. What they came up with was a plastic artwork show that highlights not only the harmful effects of plastic pollution, but also imagines potential solutions to the crisis.

Kelly Scott’s Lower Elementary class is teaching visitors about plastic pollution through recycled art.


I spoke with students Luca, Tammo, Elliott, Ben, Asher and Owen (ages 6-9) about their art pieces and was blown away by their depth of knowledge and creative ideas for solving this global problem.

Using recycled plastic, most of it from their school lunches, they created incredible models of machines and vivid scenes of plastic pollution, complete with explanations and up to date facts.

 A scene that’s becoming more and more common, littered beaches and strangled marine life highlight the crisis of plastic pollution in our oceans.


Several students created machines designed to remove plastic debris from the ocean and recycle it. One was even designed to take ocean plastic and convert it into water! Some pieces showed the extent of plastic pollution and its effects on wildlife and ecosystems. Many called for the viewer to take action against garbage. There was even a rocket ship created to remove garbage from space and return it to Earth to be recycled!


This scene of ocean pollution was accompanied by pleas to “Save the turtles,” and “Save our Earth!”


Accompanying the art pieces were posters providing the facts about plastic pollution. Speaking to the boys it was clear that they knew their stuff. We talked about where plastic comes from, and the backwards logic of creating single-use items out of a material that lasts forever. We discussed how plant-based alternatives to plastic might help decrease plastic waste. Most importantly, we talked about ways we can all use less plastic in our lives.

“We’ve really come a long way with our classroom waste,” says Scott.

“We recycle a lot, and only fill a small garbage bin once every few weeks. Next up is student lunches, I’m hoping to get everyone on board for plastic free lunches in the fall.”

  The plastic art pieces were complemented with posters displaying facts about plastic pollution.


The class’ timing is great, as Zero Waste Yukon is kicking off a campaign to promote Plastic Free July. This is an international initiative to raise awareness of plastic pollution.  We’re challenging people to refuse as much single-use plastic as they can for the month of July. Throughout the month we’ll be celebrating people that are refusing single use plastic, and providing tips for living with less.

Kids like the students in Scott’s class at Yukon Montessori are our future Zero Waste champions. They’re out there reminding people that there are so many easy little things we can do, whether it’s bringing a reusable water bottle or coffee cup, or saying no to straws when we dine out. Small behaviour changes have an impact, and when kids are leading the charge, you know that the future is in good hands.


Plastic Free July kicks off July 1. Zero Waste Yukon will be at the Fireweed Community Market on June 28th hosting a plastic-free living workshop where attendees can make their own beeswax food wraps and learn ways to live with less plastic.

Visit zerowasteyukon.ca/plasticfreejuly for info on sign up and all the ways you can choose to refuse single use!



St. Elias Community School – Haines Junction

Cindi Cowie started working at St.Elias Community School, in Haines Junction, four years ago, and has always found recycling and composting to be important. Shortly after she began working at the school, Danny Lewis from Raven Recycling came to Haines Junction and gave a presentation about waste diversion. At the time, the school had a small amount of recycling going on, being lead by Cathy McKinnon, but Cindi was inspired to see how she could expand what was being done.

Through Danny, Cindi was put in touch with David Black at the Yukon Department of Education. David was already working on a recycling pilot project with two schools in Whitehorse and was happy to provide recycling bins for their school; this made things easier for Cindi, since it meant that she wouldn’t have to ask the school for money for the bins. Shortly after that, David and Danny came to the school and gave a presentation about which items went where in the three bins provided: white paper, mixed paper and non-paper items. Each classroom had all three bins, as well as a small compost bin.

At first, it was Cathy and Cindi doing the work of taking all the recyclables to the town’s recycling centre and sorting them. However, over the course of a year they were able to expand the recycling program with the help of the school’s Green Team student members. Ranging from ages 7 to 13, the Green Team’s approximately ten members now go through the school about once a week to collect the bins from all the classrooms and empty them into the larger bins at the main recycling station by the school’s staff room. At the end of the week, a smaller group sorts everything and puts it all in a truck to be taken to the centre.

The Green Team has been going for two years now, and one of the most exciting developments has been that they are now being paid for their recycling and composting efforts. The Department of Education gives them $20 for each compost drop off and $6 for each bag of recycling, which adds up to around $50 every week. Every few months, when the group has approximately $400 collected, they all get together to decide where it should go. They tend to make sure to address any need for funding in the Haines Junction community first, and then will often send some money to groups like the Whitehorse Food Bank and the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter. The group is also supportive of the organization Little Footprints Big Steps, which works with children and youth in Haiti, so some of their money often goes to them as well. At the end of last year, the group also made a donation of $250 to Zero Waste Yukon to support the campaign.

Cindi is impressed by how the program has grown since she first got involved with recycling at the school, and sees waste diversion growing in importance around Haines Junction as well. There are other staff members at the school who support her work, and the principal’s support has really helped the project to continue. As well, the person organizing this year’s Christmas concert is planning a “Green Christmas” with all the props made from re-used materials. Around town, recycling bins are now present at municipal buildings like the skating rink and the community centre; at least one council member is extremely supportive of waste diversion initiatives. Not only that, but the local Champagne Asihik First Nation has just recently started picking up recycling from their member’s houses.

Cindi is looking to the future, and is hoping to bring in a larger bin for cardboard since that is the item that takes up the most space. She also has ambitions for a commercial composter at the school, which could in turn go into a community garden or greenhouse at St. Elias – though she says that it may need to be someone else who takes on that project.

Cindi admits that there’s still a ways to go, but that spreading the word is a good first step. “The whole thing is educating people and getting them to be open to it,” she says, “many people don’t see recycling as an option and it’s a challenge to get people to change their habits.” Fortunately, recycling also has the support of an extremely influential group of people: the town’s kids, who are encouraging their parents to increase their own recycling after seeing it being done at their school.

Yukon College

The best meeting you’ll be invited to is a CRAP one at Yukon College

They gather regularly, usually in the same location, handy to a microwave since the only time they can meet to discuss Composting, Recycling, And other Projects (yes, that acronym is CRAP) is generally at lunch because of hectic, busy schedules.  They are meetings where passion and ideas meet action.

The CRAP committee began in 2008 as a special project, staring with small steps that make a big impact, like swapping out garbage cans in washrooms for composting towels, and setting up compost bins in the Yukon College kitchen so that all kitchen compost could be picked up by City of Whitehorse trucks and contributed to the City compost facility.  Members have come and gone, but there is always a consistent and inventive group of people involved.  Science Instructor Gerald Haase has sat on the committee for four years now with no intention of slowing down.  “It’s really gone from an ad hoc committee to deal with one time purchasing of materials to being defined by a much larger scope of projects, which is why it’s called CRAP in the first place!  We didn’t have to stop at compost and recycling,” and so they haven’t.

In fact, Yukon College is one of almost forty institutions within Canada that have memberships with Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) whose mission is to “empower higher education to lead the sustainability transformation.  We do this by providing resources, professional development, and a network of support to enable institutions of higher education to model and advance sustainability in everything they do, from governance and operations to education and research,” according to the organization’s website, http://www.aashe.org

Already, in the past year, the group has received Special Project and Capital Funding through Yukon College to hire eight students for one week to build Zero Waste Stations, in support of a larger project of partnering with the Yukon Government’s Zero Waste Action Plan.  Discussions were had between Yukon College CRAP Committee members and Kristina Craig, part of the Zero Waste Yukon team. “When we met with Kristina to talk about the Zero Waste Campaign, it was a happy match right from the beginning. The Zero Waste Campaign was going in a direction that Yukon College was already committed to. We’ve been trying to divert materials from the landfill and there are so many better ways of dealing with waste than dumping them or burning them – even for energy. It just makes sense to cut down on waste right from the beginning,” says Haase.

The focus is on students and staff and every year one of the first orders of business is to engage an interested student and have them sit and share in the meetings.  The Yukon College Student Union has agreed to help facilitate picking up the recycling with the Welcome Centre in order for the money made off the bottles to go back to students this year.

Discussions around the table can vary from marketing campaigns that will make an impact, such as coffee cozies having messaging on them encouraging people to buy a sustainable mug; regarding custodial staff duties changing from garbage removal to dealing with some recycling components; and recently, eliminating all garbage cans from all classrooms, and most offices on campus and having about 20 Zero Waste Stations set-up throughout the main areas of the building.

Below are some photos of the shop students building the Zero Waste Stations.

BYTE Yukon

BYTE Yukon has been working with a Zero Waste philosophy for a number of years. In addition to the basics of recycling (paper, plastics, bottles & cans) they have also implemented the following ideas:

  • There are more recycling bins than garbage bins spread about the office to help ensure that people’s first instinct is to recycle
  • All paper products purchased by the office are 100% recycled. This includes printing paper, paper cloths, toilet paper and even our Christmas cards at the end of the year!
  • They have purchased a duplex printer so all printing is automatically double sided.
  •  We only purchase green cleaning supplies for the office.
  • Our photocopier and other power-hungry devices are always switched off when not in use.
  • We have 2 vermicomposting bins to help reduce our waste output.We also have a full Green Office manual to provide guidance on keeping our footprint as small as possible.

They have also created a free store within their office for people to “give and take” from and it’s a big hit!