Volume IV, Number 6
eMDE is a quarterly publication of the Maryland Department of the Environment. It covers articles on current environmental issues and events in the state.
With assistance from the Maryland Department of the Environment, Ellie Budzinski, a tenth grader, encouraged restaurants to use greener packaging and utensils.
As a student in the gifted and talented program at Reservoir High School in Fulton, Budzinski contacted Hilary Miller, manager of MDE’s recycling program to guide her academic, year-long, research-based study of the environment. She was specifically interested in the history of packaging products such as Styrofoam, their effects on the environment, eco-friendly alternatives, recycling of the materials, and ways for businesses to become more eco-friendly. Miller enthusiastically agreed to mentor Budzinski because she was “impressed by how much Ellie already knew about recycling and the environmental effects that certain plastics can have on wildlife and the environment.”
Budzinski’s goal was to encourage the use of economically feasible applications to reduce waste and recycle plastics and foam products in the local businesses and to construct a website about various ways that businesses can become more efficient and incorporate environmentally friendly packaging, paper products, and other materials. To determine current practices, she surveyed businesses, including local restaurants near her home in Howard County, to determine what plastics they use. After conducting her research and developing the website, Budzinski then asked the businesses to evaluate the website.
As Budzinski’s mentor, Miller reviewed her research proposal and made suggestions to improve her research and to include other viewpoints. Budzinski and Miller did not meet until the end of the project, when the advisors and parents were treated to displays of all the students’ projects and interaction with the students to learn about their research projects.
Dr. Melissa Kiehl, gifted and talented resource teacher, said, “Ellie took advantage of an opportunity to research something about which she is passionate -- the environment. She took an enormous topic and focused on the issues in her own backyard. Her research on plastics, specifically Styrofoam, and its use in local businesses was not only well-done, but also useful to the surrounding small businesses. Many business owners don't have the time to research, or aren't aware of alternative packaging materials. Hopefully Ellie's research and website will plant a seed that encourages many to re-think Styrofoam usage and realize that the small price increase of eco-friendly alternatives pays off for the community in the long run.”
Miller summed up her experience saying, “Although I have mentored high school students in the past, this experience was unique because every aspect of the research was developed and completed by the student. It was very rewarding to see a young student’s confidence grow throughout the year as she learned from her research and applied it to her local environment, hoping that one person really can make a difference in her world.”
Budzinski’s final words in her research paper sum it all up: “…eliminating harmful trash products is important for the sake of the environment, as well as the human population. In order to solve the problems throw-away plastics pose, businesses themselves must target the issues through using safer materials, better disposal methods, and recycling opportunities.”
A number of MDE employees serve as mentors or supervisors for a talented cadre of summer students from Maryland colleges and universities – evidence of the growing trend of students studying environmental fields.
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