Climate Corner: Life in Plastic Really Could Be Fantastic

Climate Corner is a column that features Westridge students’ environmental and sustainability activism both on and off-campus.

Through running Loop Club at Westridge and serving as the seventh-grade vice president, Zi D. ’27 merges her love for science with her commitment to sustainability. Loop Club focuses on creating and repurposing plastics and other harmful materials in environmentally friendly ways. Alongside Rebecca F. ’27, Zi is currently working on finding easier ways to melt down plastic and use it for other purposes, and she also hopes to develop plastic materials that can be recycled more efficiently. 

For Zi, environmental action has always been an important part of life. After learning about the widespread issues surrounding food waste, she worked hard to persuade her parents to get a composting bin. In school, she created a report on composting and its positive impact on plants. As a vegetarian, Zi has made changes to her lifestyle to address climate issues, but she also recognizes important ways our consumption must change on a large scale. 

Zi D. ’27 merges her love for science with her commitment to sustainability. (Zi D.)

One of Zi and Rebecca’s projects involves figuring out how to make mushroom styrofoam. Zi describes the process as “building a very large thin mushroom” by mixing agricultural waste products with mushroom structures and placing them in a mold. The only plastic used is in the mold, and she hopes to create a reusable mold to further increase the styrofoam’s sustainability. Diving deeper into the overlap between her love for science and her passion for environmental issues, Zi is also working with the STEAMWork Design Studio to begin using recycled or biodegradable filament in the 3D printers. Explaining that the “chemical makeups of plastic make it non-biodegradable,” she also advocates for decreasing the overall use of plastic alongside efforts to make it more sustainable. Zi addressed the negative side of current methods of cutting down on plastic. “Cutting down on plastic use often requires more fossil fuels to make alternative materials,” she said. Examining the issue from all sides, she takes all possible measures to ensure that her process of creating new plastics has few detrimental effects on the environment.

Despite her strong involvement in environmentalism on campus, Zi has had difficulty championing it in her role as vice president of seventh grade. Her main obstacle stems from her classmates’ lack of knowledge on separating waste into trash, compost, and recycling. When attempting to gather plastic in the Westridge community with special bins, others often did not pay attention to the special materials the bin requested, instead throwing in all types of waste. Conversely, they discovered that sometimes people would remove plastic from the bin or simply not acknowledge it. Thinking over possible solutions, she suggested a Greek/Roman competition related to composting or keeping trash off the ground. “It would gamify it and make it more fun,” she said.

Excited to find new ways to tackle climate challenges at Westridge, Zi has made efforts to get her surrounding community involved. She started out by making buttons and hopes each person will contribute their unique talents and interests to Loop Club and other environmental endeavors. From designing to building to artistry, all kinds of skills have critical roles, and Zi hopes a wide variety of her classmates will get involved in the project of creating sustainable materials. “Do whatever you feel comfortable doing,” she said. Whatever your interests, Zi wants you to know there is a place for you in the climate movement.