El Nido High School is a small alternative high school located on the Cabrillo College Watsonville campus directly across from the City’s plaza. Students and teachers led a year-long tobacco product waste clean-up, outreach, and advocacy program.
In April of 2022, the TUPE team delivered a presentation on the environmental impacts of big tobacco, and students and teachers participated in a tobacco waste clean-up across the street at the Watsonville Plaza. In just ten minutes, students picked up nearly 1,000 cigarette butts, along with a handful of other smoking items such as roaches, lighters, and vape cartridges. The students were astounded by the sheer number of cigarette butts they collected and decided to create a year-long study. True to the scientific process, the class posed hypotheses and recorded data delineating the waste category, location, and quantity littered on the ground in the city center at La Plaza.
El Nido High School students measured the Plaza with an engineering measuring tool and then divided the Plaza into 12 quadrants. Students were assigned in pairs to specific quadrants and went as a class to the Plaza every week (barring storms and flooding/evacuations) to conduct the clean-ups for a total of seven weeks. Students utilized local nonprofit Save Our Shores’ data cards to tally the waste and will submit their findings to the organization’s database. During the seven weeks, students collected 16.38 pounds of trash, the majority being cigarette butts (839) and small pieces of plastic (820).
In addition to the weekly clean-ups, students and staff hosted a booth at Earth Day where they asked festival participants to fill out a survey about how often they spend time in the Plaza and what potential solutions and ideas they have to help reduce tobacco waste. Students also designed bilingual flyers to post in the plaza, and t-shirts to wear during clean-ups to model and encourage responsible waste disposal behavior. Additionally, they created bilingual stickers placed on up-cycled tins which they handed out to smokers in the Plaza to use as personal trash receptacles.
But they didn’t stop there! On Tuesday evening, El Nido students, wearing their t-shirts and carrying their signs and outreach materials, addressed Watsonville City Council during public comment. They created packets for council members with their data and findings and presented them at the podium to the council and members of the public. Students prepared and practiced their commentary, and when their turn at the mic came, they reminded the council of the City’s commitment to stormwater health and watershed protection, shared their ideas, and offered solutions for the future. They did an amazing job!
This program was only possible due to the collaborative leadership of El Nido faculty including Michele Delibert. Michele invited partners to contribute to the project and work with students, including the TUPE team, the Santa Cruz County Tobacco Education Coalition, the City of Watsonville Public Works, elected officials and policy experts, environmental educators and sustainability advocates, and more. Students were given a broad perspective on the complexities of the issue of tobacco product waste, and through their perseverance throughout the school year, they truly helped to protect La Plaza and the Watsonville community.