Empowering Students to Combat Plastic Pollution: Insights from the 2023 Circular Economy Ambassador Program

Did you know that there is a Canada-wide, free program that is empowering students to take action against plastic pollution through engaging students and teachers in learning about waste reduction while encouraging them to become citizen scientists in their own communities?

Circular Economy Ambassador Program (CEAP) by Mind Your Plastic

This is the Circular Economy Ambassador Program (CEAP) by Mind Your Plastic. The motivation behind the CEAP is simple: educate students, empower them to take action, and watch as they become leaders in the fight against plastic waste. At Mind Your Plastic (MYP), we are passionate about eliminating plastic pollution, and education is a major part of the work that we do here!

In order to understand how participating in CEAP changes students’ understanding and attitudes towards plastic waste and pollution, we got digging into the results of our 2023 program.🕵🏻‍♀️Let’s dive into our findings!

Diving into Data

We developed surveys customized for 2 student age groups – 5-12 years old and 13-18 years old – aimed to gather demographic information, the accuracy of the existing knowledge of the students, their waste-related opinions and beliefs, and their perceived learning outcomes. Here’s how we did it:

  • Pre-cleanup survey: taken prior to the students’ performing a litter cleanup in their community and the associated learning. 
  • Post-cleanup survey: taken following the cleanup to capture the change in students’ knowledge throughout the program. 

 

Both surveys asked the same questions to gauge how the program impacted their awareness and attitudes about plastic waste and pollution.

Empowering Student's for Plastic Pollution

Our Findings

A total of 253 students (8 schools) participated in both surveys. Here’s a brief overview of the insights and changes we found from students:

Student Demographics

  • 36% of responses came from schools in Saskatchewan and 28% of responses came from schools in Alberta.
  • 39% of surveyed students were 9-10 years old, 26% surveyed students were 13-14 years old, and 16% of surveyed students were 7-8 years old.

Correct vs. Incorrect Questions

  • Before the program: When asking what the phrase “circular economy” meant to students, only 7% of students could correctly identify the definition of a circular economy. 
  • After the program: nearly half of students (~43%) were now able to accurately define a circular economy.

The students also improved their understanding of how much plastic really gets recycled each year, with an extra 10% of students responding correctly following the cleanup and learning. “As the students continued on their journey toward environmental stewardship through the CEAP, a pivotal realization emerged: recycling alone cannot single-handedly combat the scourge of plastic pollution. Instead, our focus must shift to the root of the issue – the relentless production of plastic.

Opinion Questions

These questions provide a great glimpse into how the students are thinking about plastic pollution as well as what causes the problem and how we can solve it. 

  • Before participating in the program: almost 19% of students indicated the crisis was “not important,” 
  • After participating in the program: only 3% of students maintained that opinion, demonstrating that the program is helping students realize the severity of the problem. 

Students shifted their perspective on the causes of plastic pollution from believing our overconsumption of plastics causes pollution to viewing producers and retailers as the largest contributor, which highlights the CEAP’s ability to help students recognize the larger systemic influences at play. 

Learning Expectations

To know more about what the students were expecting to learn from the program, what they enjoyed about the program, and how it inspired them to take further action, we asked questions that encouraged reflection on their experiences in the CEAP. We hoped to strengthen the learning outcomes and develop a true sense of connection to the issue of plastic pollution. 

Students were most excited about cleaning up their community and making a tangible difference by picking up litter in their local environment. 

Importantly, following the cleanup, more than 75% of students indicated they were inspired at some level to carry on and take action to eliminate plastic pollution, demonstrating just how powerful access to the CEAP can be. 

The CEAP effectively combines the hands-on action of the cleanup with in-class education, empowering students to become successful environmental stewards.

What’s Next?

Mind Your Plastic is thrilled to have more than 5,000 Canadian students enrolled in this year’s program! Through their involvement, we’ll be able to find out even more about how students learn from the CEAP, what they take away from their experience, and how they plan to apply their learnings in their everyday lives. 

It takes leaders with knowledge and passion to change the world, and the data shows that CEAP is sparking this leadership in Canadian youth. Our team is looking forward to diving into the results of the 2024 pre- and post-cleanup surveys to gain an even better understanding of the impact of our program.

We hope to continue increasing the number of students across Canada engaged in the CEAP and learning about the benefits of a truly circular economy. 

While this blog provides a very brief overview of the findings from our 2023 CEAP student surveys, we have compiled an insightful summary of the entirety of the results. If you’d like to read more about the survey results of last year’s program, find the full 2023 survey summary here!

Picture of Dayanne Raffoul
Dayanne Raffoul

Research Coordinator

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