THE FWSU STORY: Students Speak Out on Solving Environmental Waste with Design Thinking

On today’s FWSU STORY, students in the “Solving With Design Thinking” class at GEMS use their voice to share solutions to a common environmental waste problem.  

Students investigating the parts of a k-cup.

Students investigating the parts of a k-cup.

Billions and billions of disposable coffee pods known as k-cups are tossed into garbage cans each year. This year’s Solving Problems With Design Thinking class at Georgia Elementary Middle School identified the problem and designed a solution.

K-Cups are a common, everyday item contributing to environmental waste.

K-Cups are a common, everyday item contributing to environmental waste.

Our solution was to find a way to separate the k-cups and direct each material to the best place to avoid waste.

In 3 weeks we collected nearly 400 k-cups.

  • Plastic cups mostly went  to the Art room sculpture center
  • 8 lbs. of coffee and filter paper were composted
  • A very small quantity of aluminum was recycled
  • No part of these k-cups entered the garbage

For three weeks we tested our solution at GEMS, made adjustments, and created an exhibit in the C-Building Lobby to share our work. The following is an FAQ about the project in the words of students from the class.

The problem solving process steps we use in the class.

The problem-solving process steps we use in the class.

Why are k-cups a problem at GEMS and in the world?

“They are a problem because you can’t recycle them easily so we took them apart to figure out how to use them.”

“They are  just a very big waste and you can only compost some of the parts.”

“They are not environment-friendly and can’t be recycled all together, causing waste.”

Students designed a tool for cleaning k-cups.

Students designed a tool for cleaning k-cups.

“The plastic cup part is not compostable or recyclable.”

“The K-cups are not recyclable after being used so they get thrown away. This is not safe for the environment. They are wasteful.”

How did you formulate a plan to solve the problem here at GEMS?

“We had a group brainstorm and we built things to make the process go faster.”

“We brainstormed a plan on what to do with each part of the k cups, and we formulated different tools to help us do so.”

“We made a system to take a k-cup apart to be used in other ways that is not the trash.”

“As a team, we decided to make a tool that helped when cleaning the K-cup. Two to three people would work in a group that would focus on K-cups in a different way.”

A k-cup light fixture. Really!

A k-cup light fixture. Really!

Was your solution effective? 

“Yes, it was effective, because we had a quite easy job cleaning the k-cups and creating different uses for them, and what we could do with each part of them. What we could not reuse was composted or recycled.”

“I think that it was very effective, and recycling the k-cups was fast and took minimal effort.”

“Yes, it was effective because we got 396 k-cups and we made a lot of crafts.”

“Yes. We came up with about 400 k cups, throughout three weeks of hard work and designing. We also made different things with them.”

Working as a team - cleaning out and separating k-cups.

Students collaborate and work as a team to clean out and separate k-cups.

Could the solution be used elsewhere? Could all k-cups be recycled? 

“Yes, if we could find a place that could combine the grounds into fertilizer and we could have the plastic melted into different objects, recycle the tin foil and the filters could be composted. This could save our landfills from overflowing with k cups and would help with keeping landfills in check by recycling.”

“I think that it could definitely be used elsewhere. If enough people were willing to participate, then they could be recycled.”

“Yes, but that would mean that everyone would have to lend a hand to the project to make boxes and also to collect dissemble and clean.”

“We found a way so that each part of the k cup could be used for something in a useful way.”

Separating a k-cup into its materials

Separating a k-cup into its materials

What have you learned from this project in terms of problem-solving, teamwork, or k-cup waste and recycling? 

“I learned that little things that we use in everyday lifestyle can have a big thing in waste problems.”

“When you work as a team, projects get done faster and more efficiently.”

Making a light up sphere out of k-cups!

Making a light up sphere out of k-cups!

“I have learned that people can solve most problems by putting their heads together and finding out a solution.”

“I learned that if we work as a team we can get many things accomplished.”

“I learned that you sometimes have to work with people you find annoying and k-cups are super wasteful.”

Our Exhibit in C-Building at GEMS.

Our Exhibit in C-Building at GEMS.


Today’s FWSU STORY first appeared on the GEMS Innovation Lab blog

One thought on “THE FWSU STORY: Students Speak Out on Solving Environmental Waste with Design Thinking

  1. Proud to see our students working together and solving environmental problems as part of their learning at GEMS. Students have the potential to have a huge impact on our community. I appreciate the Innovation Lab as just one more opportunity for kids to learn!

    Liked by 1 person

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