Can I recycle ___________?

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Helms EarthTeam interns created posters this week showing the items in students school lunch which can be recycled. Because Helms has a compactor for their recycling, it’s very important that no food end up in the compactor with the paper and plastics.

To the Creek!


Today we adventured down to San Pablo Creek to do a mini clean-up. For many of our students, this was their first foray into a riparian corridor, so most of the experience was spent taking in the many sights & sounds that are so different from our urban environment.

Why care about marine debris?


Today students took time to reflect on the impact that marine debris can have on aquatic organisms. Specifically, students looked at the Albatross, a sea bird that surfs the oceans waves looking for squid and fish to eat. However, those Albatross will often eat plastic by mistake. By dissecting boluses, the non-digestible pieces that the birds regurgitate, scientists can get an idea of how much plastic these animals are eating, and the composition of those materials.

To sample the composition, our students at Helms made mini-transects, spinning their pencil on top of the paper, then recording whatever the pencil touched.


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Students have begun collecting data on their campus using Instagram and the hashtag(#) zerolitter. Like ducks to water, middle school students are adept at using technology like our tablets and the Instagram app. We are using various hashtags like plastic, paper, metal, to calculate what percentage of the litter is in each category.

Check out this Crystal Geyser water bottle that somehow ended up as litter in this tree!

The Water Cycle

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Following our visit to the trash capture device in front of Helms Middle Schools, students created posters of the water cycle, and how water moves around the Earth. Evaporation and precipitation are the forces most often discussed in school, but our internship is focusing on the runoff, and what it might carry back to the bay.

Drains to Bay?


Today Jen Jackson from the City of San Pablo took our students on a mini field trip. We visited a Trash capture device which is installed in the storm drain across the street from their school. Students learned that most storm drains in the SF Bay Area have no filters at all, any materials that enter the storm drain will be swept along with stormwater into the nearest creek or channel that enters the bay. However, the storm drain that we visited includes a screen which traps any litter, but allows water to pass through. These screens must be cleaned by city staff several times per year to keep them overflowing.

Thanks Jen!



A bag of cheetos seen inside the storm drain.