Third-Grader Wins Science Competition for Zero-Waste Packaging

Joshua Yi works on the prototype for his winning design for the Kids' Science Challenge. MetroFocus/ Georgia Kral

Joshua Yi, 8, concentrated on the project in front of him. Despite being surrounded by adults and cameras in a midtown Manhattan design studio, he showed no hesitation. He was just building a creation he’d already designed.

Working with cardboard and tape, Yi displayed his engineering prowess with confidence. His challenge? To turn a toy’s packaging, which is often abundant, into a reusable product.

Yi is the winner of the Kids’ Science “Zero Waste” Challenge, a nationwide competition for kids in grades three through six. The third-grader from East Brunswick, N.J., designed a toy car’s packaging to be part of the toy itself: the packaging transforms into a race track. He called the original concept “No More Trash.”

Yi came to New York City on Tuesday to develop his idea with the creative team at Design & Source, which works with companies to develop packaging made out of recycled or reusable materials.

While children like Joshua are learning early about waste and recycling, New York City is struggling to catch up on best practices for both.

The Big Apple is facing a waste conundrum. The city produces 50,000 tons of waste and recycling every day, and all of it is transported out of the city to garbage facilities, at a high cost both to the environment and the city budget.

Joshua Yi drew his winning design for a reusable toy package, complete with instructions. Photo courtesy of Kids' Science Challenge.

New York City also lags behind many other U.S. cities in recycling collection, and the people that do recycle often have a hard time doing so. The rules of recycling are confusing, despite the city’s posting of the rules (there’s even an Office of Recycling Outreach and Education). New Yorkers often have no idea what the city does and doesn’t recycle.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged to double the diversion rate for household waste, which is a measure for how much trash is kept out of landfills, over the next five years.

Joshua Yi is doing his part with his zero-waste toy.

Each of this year’s categories in the Kids’ Science Challenge addressed a different issue in science. Zero Waste asked kids to design a package that never ends up in a landfill; Animal Smarts required designing a game for an animal, paying particular attention to that animals skills; and Meals on Mars asked kids to sustainably produce a food item for use in outer space.

Kids work with teachers and classmates to understand the project before creating designs. This year, 1,436 projects were submitted. Winners received an all-expenses paid trip to a U.S. city to see their design come to life and to visit local museums.


The Kids’ Science Challenge partners with Design & Source in New York City to teach children about sustainable packaging. Video courtesy of Kids’ Science Challenge.

Yi’s day began with a trip to Caraustar, a Brooklyn-based manufacturer of recycled paperboard and paperboard products. There, he worked with design manager Steven Mahler to digitally program the box that his toy would come in.

“It was awesome and I liked the cutting machine,” Li said. “It was like a robot and there was this machine that made creases and the cuts that we programmed.”

His next stop was Design & Source, a sustainable design company that works with sustainable materials. There, Yi showed the box he’d made at Caraustar, and then worked on a computer with an employee to design the way the packaging would look. On an easel, Laura Tufariello, founder of Design & Source, wrote down what Li wanted on the box: a title, a barcode, a picture of the raceway and the word “transform,” to advertise the box’s double use.

Jim Metzner is the creator of the Kids’ Science Challenge, which is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation. He said that teaching kids about conservation in some ways supplements the education they receive in school.

Joshua Yi proudly holds up his finished product, Joshua's Raceway, made with 100% recycled and reusable materials. Photo by Lin Sanders.

“It’s important to educate kids and to get their ideas,” he said. “A lot of teachers get caught up in teaching the test, which they have to do because of No Child Left Behind, and they literally don’t have the time [to do more.]”

“The stats say kids learn as much, or more, outside the classroom as they do in the classroom,” he added.

Trudy Atkins is the Science and Gifted and Talented Education Supervisor in the East Brunswick, N.J. school district, where Yi attends school. She said the Kids’ Science Challenge has made a difference in their curriculum.

“It certainly enhances our students’ experiences,” she said, adding that Li is only in the third grade, and environmental education doesn’t begin until grade five. “Whenever you help or guide or teach a child to apply skills it’s a good thing.”

Another benefit to getting kids interested in sustainability and conservation at a young age is they often teach their parents about what they learn.

“In school, when kids learn new things they bring it back home,” said Tufariello.

Metzner also considers “informal science education,” important because kids need additional opportunities to learn.

“We wanted it to be fun for kids. We didn’t want it to be like school,” he said, adding that the Kids’ Science Challenge is also open to kids who are home-schooled, or participating through 4H camp or the Girls Scouts. “We wanted to show that kids can come up with great ideas.”

For more technology news, watch “MetroFocus: The Tech Economy,” airing on THIRTEEN on June 30 at 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. and July 12 at 8:30 p.m.; on WLIW at 5:30 a.m. on June 30; on NJTV on July 1 at 5:30 a.m. and July 2 at 4:30 a.m.



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