Most schools use a lot of paper. From tests and papers to notebooks and textbooks, middle and high schools create a significant amount of paper waste. That’s why Sethu Odayappan co-founded Tree-Plenish, an organization dedicated to reducing paper waste by partnering with schools across the United States to plant trees in local communities.
Sethu first became aware of the impact of climate change after watching the documentary An inconvenient truth in a science class. “I was shocked to see all the stats and pictures,” Sethu told In The Know. “I was kind of looking back on my 12 years and realizing how wasteful schools are.”
Sethu was struck by the amount of paper his school used each year and decided to team up with classmate Lizzy Elsner to do something about it. “Every day in class we received these huge packets of paper. Me and my co-founder, Lizzy, have found that our school uses about 230 paper trees every year,” says Sethu. “The next step was quite simple for us. We wanted to replenish our community with those 230 lost trees.
Together, Sethu and Lizzy organized a tree planting event and rallied their local community to get involved. “We could have gone to a public park or this big piece of land in the middle of nowhere and just planted 230 trees, but one thing that was really important to us was involving the community,” says Sethu. “On the day of the event, all these teams showed up in the parking lot of a high school. We distributed these saplings and told them which houses to plant in, and we taught them how to plant the saplings.
While Sethu and Lizzy initially started Tree-Plenish to tackle their school’s paper waste, the organization quickly branched out and began teaming up with other schools across the country to plant trees. “Tree-Plenish has grown more than I ever imagined. And after our successful first year, we decided to try and bring it to a few of our nearby towns in Massachusetts,” says Sethu. “So we set a goal of reaching 10 schools in Massachusetts. As more and more schools joined us, we began to revise our goals and realized, “Wow, we can do so much better than 10 schools in Massachusetts. » »
In its first year, Tree-Plenish far exceeded its initial goals. “I actually remember the call we had with our team, where people were laughing and joking about having 50 schools in our first year,” Sethu recalled. “But we were actually able to reach 90 schools in that first year. We planted about 20,000 trees, which was amazing.
Sethu is optimistic that Tree-Plenish will continue to grow. He believes the initiative makes it easy for schools and students to get involved in the climate change movement. “I think Tree-Plenish has a very bright future because it’s like a project in a box. This is a very low barrier to entry for any school. You sign up, you don’t have to pay any money,” says Sethu. “Our environmental justice initiative has a lot of potential to really give leadership opportunities to students who never had them, [and] plant trees in communities that have never had trees.
Sethu also believes that the trees planted by Tree-Plenish will have a significant impact on the environment. “We planted 20,000 trees last year, we are planting 50,000 trees this year. These trees will have a huge impact on improving air quality for people, reducing water runoff, increasing shade, improving community aesthetics “Sethu told In The Know. “We need to be very active in making decisions that will reduce climate change and rising temperatures, and one of the ways to do that is to plant trees.”
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