A DEP volunteer shares their experience!

June 14, 2019

Summer break is approaching briskly, bringing with it three months of freedom and revelry. Many kids are yearning for splendid vacations. A few, however, are poised to spend their summer studying ceaselessly and preparing for the next school year. Nevertheless, most students do not gravitate towards either extreme and prefer to travel the middle route: balancing jubilant indulgence with diligent work—namely, exploring the various opportunities for success that they have at their fingertips throughout the summer (Student Service Learning -SSL).

I went to Montgomery Village on Saturday, June 8th, to assist with a community cleanup. We had twelve volunteers in total: 6 children from middle school and high school and 6 adults, two of whom have willingly participated in neighborhood cleanup projects for over a decade.

Home of the turtle

Within 10 minutes of arrival, we headed down to a serene little creek by the hillside to fulfill our job. We soon collected an astonishing number of aluminum bottles, plastic bottles, and paper boxes, rapidly filling an entire bag to the brim. I was shocked that despite widespread advocacy for environmental protection, people still dismissed the Earth’s suffering with incredible disdain. It saddened me to see plastic bags deeply embedded in the bottom of the creek and littered throughout the creek side & beyond. It was even more heart wrenching when I spotted an aloof turtle lounging in the water, blissfully oblivious to the human-induced deterioration of its environment. I realized for the first time why stores charge 5 cents extra for a plastic bag—to deter shoppers from disposing improperly of the plastic bags and chipping away at the environment’s health. Remember: don’t toss your plastic bags everywhere; they are languid decomposers and thus detrimental to the health.

Trash found during cleanup

After completing our 2-hour cleanup session, Ana Arriaza of the MoCo Department of Environmental Protection offered us a brief spoken introduction to how Montgomery County handles and manages its waste and recyclable items. She lectured us on how critical it is to isolate recyclable items from trash, for recyclable objects are sorted in a special process that can be hampered by the inclusion of trash: a magnet-powered machine to detect all the metals first, then an air blower to sift out the light plastics. Glass is the one material that remains afterward. Ana also mentioned that Montgomery County still uses human intervention to classify waste items; she hopes that the current generation, Gen Z, can invent something innovative to facilitate the sorting technique, which is presently complicated by plastics—some of which are recyclable and some of which are not.

Everyone in our group toiled tirelessly, even in spite of the sweltering weather; within two hours, we were able to amass at least 300 pounds of trash just from the minuscule forest in which the creek was located. Quote Ana: “Every little bit helps…there are so many creatures that live in our rivers and streams.  We want their and our homes to be clean!”

In the state of Maryland, all students earning a high school diploma are required to complete 75 hours of student service learning (SSL), including students who are placed in private schools at public expense.

SSL is a Maryland state graduation requirement whose goal is to help students to understand a person’s shared responsibilities in a society. 

We have learned a very important lesson through serving the community outside of our school. 

By Grace Chen, MCPS student

2 comments on "A DEP volunteer shares their experience!"

  1. Jim says:

    Love this article. Young student like you shows deep care of this beautiful community. I hope I can read more articles like this to let us know what younger generation really think other than computer game.

  2. Suzanne Abu-Sharr says:

    Grace, the work that you are doing here is so vital. I was appalled by the amount of trash you collected in such a short time. We really do not care enough for this beautiful planet we call home. Keep up the great work.

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