Active learning in teaching a circular economy — Observatory
Over the past few decades, the world’s population has been accelerating more and more; the demand for products and resources is enormous. Consequently, environmental systems have significant pressure to produce essential consumables for the population. However, this is far from the only problem. Poor management of residual materials of manufacturing generates pollution which ends up ending up in the sea, a real concern for everyone because it threatens the stability and conservation of our oceans, all its richness and marine life. The question arises: how to generate positive changes for the environment from the classroom? Below we share our experience.
Teach students new concepts such as circular economy supported by citizen science promoting environmental and scientific education helps engage and connect students to their reality through environmental conservation projects. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy responds to the resource consumption challenges of organizations and economies, seeking to facilitate systems of production and consumption that promote efficiency in the use of materials, water and Energy. In turn, citizen science is an integral way to connect people to environmental systems and conservation challenges.
Students of Tecnologico de Monterrey assessed the circularity of plastic waste in five cities in Mexico. This research allowed us to see the characteristics and dynamics of consumption and waste disposal of the Mexican population and how these differed in each of the five study areas.
Implementation of methodologies to assess circularity
Collaboration with University of Georgia, FEMSA Foundation and Ocean Conservancy, Tecnologico de Monterrey implemented the University of Georgia methodology called Circularity assessment protocol (CAP) for the first time in Mexico and Latin America. The objective was to identify and understand consumption habits and the management of plastic waste in five Mexican cities Monterrey, Mexico City, Queretaro, Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristobal de las Casas. The research examined waste management and its implications for the environment and identified intervention points for moving towards a circular economy.
In this innovative educational project, students solved real problems and learned the concepts of circular economy and citizen science. They also learned about the peculiarities of waste management in each city and its impact on its environment.
“In Mexico, 102,895 tons of waste are generated daily, of which only 83.93% is collected and 78.54% sent to final disposal sites; only 9.63% is recycled.
Data collection using technology
Scientists need environmental information to generate more robust solutions to the problems of ocean pollution from plastics or other litter, and they look to citizens to collect the necessary data and inform. Through the mobile app Marine Debris Tracker developed by the University of Georgia, people can collect information about the type of waste in the sites where they are. This geospatial information is collected and uploaded into an open-access database, which can be downloaded and analyzed by scientists, politicians, engineers, educators – virtually anyone – to design and develop solutions.
Tecnologico de Monterrey students were trained to obtain and enter data using the Marine Debris Tracker application for this project. The tool also made it possible to identify and quantify the waste found during their field trips in the five study areas.
Plastic predominates among the litter found, followed by tobacco and waste paper. Curiously, in Querétaro and Mexico City, the most counted materials were cigarettes or their waste. In the other cities, plastic was the waste with the highest number of samples identified. However, a common denominator in all the cities studied was the lack of adequate infrastructure for waste management; that is, they do not have an effective garbage collection system and they lack garbage containers both on public roads and at collection sites.
“The results of the data analysis surprised me. Before doing this project, I did not understand the extent and importance of good waste management.”
– Aynara Nicole Moreno García (student).
Three proposals were formed from this research work for waste management: 1) promote environmental education and facilitate synergies between educational institutions, non-governmental entities and other social leaders; 2) improve the current waste collection and management infrastructure, and 3) promote a culture of recycling that allows the recovery of materials that can be recovered and reused.
One of the biggest challenges in implementing this project has been carrying it out during the pandemic period and promoting a safe environment for the health of our students and teachers. It was also a challenge for the students to analyze the large amount of disaggregated information obtained from the application and simply share the results in a participatory workshop.
When we talk about pollution in our country, it is very common to name other people than us as a problem, be it industry or public transport, to name a few. However, through this project, we managed to sow in the students that everyone is the source of pollution. This cigarette butt that they found, this paper or this plastic sprinkled in different places, did not come from any company. This work allowed the students to become aware that pollution also comes from the daily activities of us citizens; therefore, we can all be part of the solution. This change of “chip” in reflection and commitment was a fundamental aspect for the students. If we talk about caring for the environment and committing to sustainability, this type of work can generate changes that emanate from the classroom. Therefore, we invite our education colleagues to develop similar projects because when students win, so do educational institutions and our planet.