A Bright Future: Creative, Passionate Students at Class Academy in Portland Participate in Read the Dirt Environmental Writing Contest

by: Posted on: June 10, 2013

Editor’s Note: Elementary students at Class Academy in Portland, Oregon, have been studying environmental issues that affect the Pacific Northwest and beyond.  Much of their studies have focused on human interaction with and impacts upon the natural environment.  Forty Class Academy students provided Read the Dirt with submissions for an environmental writing contest.  With a heavy emphasis on water, the well-thought-out and written compositions covered a range of topics including privatization of water, depletion of aquifers, human impacts on water quality and the water cycle, storm water management, issues surrounding the presence of pesticides and other chemicals on our water, the health of our fisheries, and alternative energy.  The students were judged on the clarity of their compositions, original thought, and seeking to find solutions to the problems they researched.  While picking winners was incredibly challenging for Read the Dirt, the top three scoring essays are published below.  We at Read the Dirt are incredibly encouraged by the passion, talent, and creativity that the students demonstrated in their submissions, and expect great future leadership and solutions from the students not only at Class Academy, but from the entire new generation of critical thinkers that they represent!


Grand Prize Winner

Torin Perkins, Vikings Class


Is Water™ My Future?


In the United States, annual consumption of bottled water™ in 1976 was two gallons per person.  By 2012, that increased to 30 gallons per person, a 1,400% increase.  What is behind this increase?  Privatization.

All across the world, people are giving up control of their water resources to corporations.  This privatization of water supplies has had many negative effects, including reduction in quality of municipal water, increased cost of water for citizens, dollars leaving communities and going to foreign corporations, and loss of jobs.

The purpose of a publicly controlled water supply is to provide safe, healthy, and affordable water to citizens.  The purpose of a corporation is to please shareholders with profits.

Water is life.  Am I going to be a cog in the corporate machine or not?

The next time you reach for a cold bottle of water, stop and think what is masked behind that snow-capped mountain on the label.  When water is bottled and sent to market, the environment suffers in many ways.

When water is taken from one place to another, it damages the hydrologic cycle.  Interruption of the hydrologic cycle hurts us and wildlife.  Water bottlers remove more water from aquifers than is recharged.  This permanently damages the aquifer’s structure.  What is lost can never come back.

Last year, 17 million barrels of oil were used to make the plastic bottles for water.  From pumping to distribution, the bottled water industry used 50 million barrels of oil.

Even though bottled water costs 1,000 times more than tap water, last year Americans spent over $15 billion on bottled water.  Last year, the Oregon state budget for elementary education was $6.2 billion.

If you believe in my future, if you believe in the environment, if you believe that water™ threatens both of those, then join me.  Boycott the companies involved: Nestle, Coca-Cola/Dasani, Pepsi/Aquafina, etc.

Is water™ my future?

Perhaps not.


Second Place

Tia Kuhl, Chinooks Class


The Town of Cascade Locks

Water is very important in our environment, it helps us, and other animals survive.  There are more and more people on the Earth so there is less water for everyone and we need to conserve water.  A lot of people drink water out of water bottles.  Nestlé is a company that makes water bottles and they want to make a bottling plant in Cascade Locks.  There are pros and cons about this bottling plant project.  Let’s investigate them.

Cascade Locks is one of the oldest towns located on the Columbia River Gorge in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.  It was founded in 1853 by 3 families of settlers, but Indian families had been living there for more than 11,000 years.  Between the 1950s and 1980s the town had a lot of money because of logging, highway and dam construction, and the fish hatchery.  Once the Bonneville Dam was built, and the laws changed and people could not cut trees in the National Forest the town lost a lot of jobs and money.  Now the town is known for sailing, windsurfing, fishing, hiking and biking.  In July 2011 the Census Bureau counted 1,153 people living in Cascade Locks.

Nestlé is a company from Switzerland.  It has 29 brands and makes a lot of different things such as baby food, bottled water, ice cream, pet food, and candies.  The company earns a lot of Swiss Francs.  Nestlé wants to build a water bottling facility in Cascade Locks.  The plant would be around 250,000 square feet, and they would use a pipeline to get water from the Oxbow Springs.  They would buy the water from the town.  The town would replace the water it sold to Nestlé with water from its underground reserve.  The company thinks that they need about 300 gallons per minute to fill up their water bottles.

Some of the positives about this project are that Nestlé bottles use less plastic than other water bottles so they help the environment.  Also, right now Nestlé brings the water bottles from California and British Columbia, so if they have a plant here it would help the environment by not using as much gas.  Nestlé says that the construction of the plant will create around 255 jobs and to run the plant it will take 70 workers which helps the economy by creating jobs for people who live in the town.  The plant would also bring taxes to the town that they can use to repair the roads and take care of the schools.

But this project also brings some problems for the environment.  The Nestlé bottling plant would use some water from the Spring, so that would make less water in the environment.  Also, bottled water uses a lot of plastic which is bad for the environment and it cost people a lot of money compared to tap water.  Nestlé would buy the spring water from the town for a fifth of a cent and after bottling it they would sell it to their customers for $1.50.  Another negative point is that Nestlé would increase the traffic on the highway because they would have trucks bringing supplies to Nestlé and taking the bottles away.

Now that you have more facts about Cascade Locks and the Nestlé project you can make your own opinion about the project, but I think we can agree that there are no easy answers to this plan.


Third Place

Keya Pandya, Vikings Class


Plastics Pollution in the Pacific Ocean

Extent of Plastic Pollution in the Pacific Ocean:

Plastic forms the primary pollutant in the Pacific Ocean due to the fact that it does not dissolve or break down.  Almost 80% of the trash in the Pacific Ocean comes from plastic.  In the Los Angeles area alone, 20 tons of plastic fragments—like grocery bags, straws and soda bottles—are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day!  Most ocean pollution starts out on land and is carried by wind and rain to the sea.  Once in the water, there is a near-continuous accumulation of waste.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch:

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating plastic accumulation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California.  It is almost twice the size of the state of Texas.  The estimated mass of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 1 million tons!  Ship generated pollution is a concern because 3,000 passenger cruise ships produce over 8 tons of solid waste weekly, a major amount of which ends up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Merchant ships dump 639,000 plastic containers each day into the ocean.

How it Affects Marine Wildlife:

Almost the whole ocean food chain is getting affected by plastic pollution.  Plastic pollution can harm ocean life severely.  Sea Turtles think plastic bags are jellyfish, so they eat them.  Then after a couple of days, the plastic bags start clogging their digestive system and organs in its body and they finally die.  If a fish that has consumed tiny amounts of the plastic, and is not healthy, is eaten by us, we would be harmed too.

Albatross, a type of bird, will eat anything they find just lying around or floating in the water.  So if they eat a bottle cap, a plastic bag, or even a plastic water bottle, the albatross will die in the exact same way the turtle did.  97.5% of the albatross in the world have eaten plastic garbage.

Fish in the Pacific Ocean ingest 12,000-24,000 tons of plastic each year.  Marine mammals like whales either ingest or get entangled in plastic and are therefore endangered.

Possible Solutions:

It is impossible to avoid plastic pollution but there are solutions that can reduce it.  One can help by reducing their usage of and recycle plastic bottles at the nearby recycling center.  We as a community can help by keeping our beaches clean by picking up after ourselves when we are at the beach or near a water body.  Another solution to reducing plastic pollution is using materials and creating new resources that can replace plastic and bio-degrade.


Plastic never goes away.  This is a serious problem that we must all try to solve so that we can sustain life in our oceans.  I hope this essay will persuade the reader to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Articles On Ideas

Ideas: Lessons learned, perspectives, advice and more by and for organizers working toward a more democratic society.