Bennett Gordon, 13, of Whitewood, South Dakota, a seventh-grader at Sturgis Williams Middle School, raises awareness of the need to recycle by organizing collection and recycling drives, conducting a recycling workshop for elementary school students, and sponsoring an annual essay contest that challenges middle schoolers to envision how they can make the world a better place by recycling. Two years ago, Bennett went on a tour of the local landfill and was shocked by what he saw. “I remember the horrible smell of the garbage from the parking lot,” he said. “But once inside, what made my jaw drop most was seeing the mountains of trash.” During the tour, Bennett learned that 75 percent of the items people throw away can be recycled. But, in fact, only about 30 percent are. He went home determined to change that.
He started small, setting up a recycling bin for his family along with a donation box, so household items and clothing could be given away instead of trashed. And he began researching what others were doing for the planet. This gave him the confidence, he said, to initiate a project at school. His first step was to collect 200 pairs of gently used shoes to be reused by people in need. He then set up a Facebook page (named “Recycle: There is No Planet B”) to share tips for where and how to recycle or reuse everything from eyeglasses to electronics. He also hosted a statewide essay contest, coordinated a recycling workshop for elementary school students in a local after-school program, and led a drive that collected 150 books to set up small libraries in area laundromats.