by Brian Tomasik

When I was in high school, I was a strong environmentalist. The most significant advocacy effort I undertook was aiming to encourage my school district to buy recycled copy paper, although the effort was ultimately unsuccessful. This page links to writings related to this project.

Origin of the idea

Based on my interest in Ralph Nader, I heard about the book Civics for Democracy: A Journey for Teachers and Students, which I bought. While browsing through it in Oct. 2002, I saw on p. 253 a proposed activity of making your school a green purchaser. One of the links given was to the Government Purchasing Project (GPP), which I looked up online. There, I found information about chorine-free paper and links to companies that make it. I also found a useful guide entitled “How to Encourage Forest-Friendly Purchasing in Your Community’s Institutions.” I continued reading and contacting people for more information.

A summary of my effort

In fall 2004, as part of the Common Application for college, I wrote the following account in the section on extracurricular activities.

For the past two years, I have been working to convince my school district to purchase recycled copier paper. I have been concerned about environmental degradation ever since I was a small child, and this endeavor—more than any other—has given me the opportunity to convert that concern into determination to make a real and meaningful change.

In addition, this effort has shown me how things are done in the real world, outside of the sheltered walls of the classroom. There was no teacher to assign the project and to set a due date; rather, the task was the result of my own volition, and I moved along at my own pace. I was not given any rubric or formally instructed in how to proceed; instead, I found online guide articles and went for advice to parents, teachers, friends, and even representatives from colleges and universities that already purchased recycled paper. The activity was neither theoretical nor contrived; to the contrary, my letters to paper retailers inquiring about their bulk prices, my tests of the quality of various brands of recycled paper in copiers, and my success in encouraging the administration to conduct a bid for recycled paper alongside the usual bid for virgin paper so that actual prices could be compared all represented concrete ways to overcome real obstacles.

And yet, none of this would have been possible without formal education. I needed the writing skills that I had learned in English and history classes for my research report on the environmental benefits of recycled paper and for the letter that I prepared for the Board of Education. And I never would have been able to calculate the exact magnitude of estimated resource savings that the school district’s conversion to recycled paper would entail had I not taken science and math. The lesson of this project, then, is not that theoretical instruction is a useless waste of time but that it must be reinforced and enhanced by its application to real-world situations.

Documents I wrote during the process

  • TODO: long report
  • TODO: board letter

Coverage by the local newspaper