Special Reports

Girl Scouts troop learns small changes have big impacts on environment

The wrap around the new Girl Scout cookie package is a No. 6 plastic. An earlier version had the incorrect type of plastic.

On her second day, Teagan Vesper wanted to start a recycling program at her school.

"We could recycle plastic and collect things people don't want. Then we could sell it to raise money to donate to a charity, like to help wetlands," she said.

I should mention, Teagan is 11 years old. She'd just started the Sixth Grade Center in Derby, when she proposed starting the community recycling project to save the wetlands.

For Teagan, it was a natural evolution from what she'd learned last year in Troop 40710 of the Girl Scouts of the Kansas Heartland. Last year, the troop focused on saving energy, including recycling plastic and its effects on environment.

"Girl Scouts have really always been about the environment," said Cat Poland, director of communications for the Wichita region of Girl Scouts. "It was started about a love of nature."

Next year, for its 100th anniversary, the Girl Scout's theme is "Forever Green." The organization is encouraging troops around the nation to pick one of four environmental studies. In Kansas, it will be how to cut down on plastic waste.

Every year, the scouts follow what they call "Journey Paths." They include, "It's Your Planet -- Love It," which offers age-group projects, ranging from "Wonders of Water" for Brownies in elementary school to "Breathe" (clean air) for Cadettes in middle school and "Sow What" (local food) for high school-aged Seniors.

Girl Scout Cookies are even getting new packaging. This year, the "Thanks-A-Lot" shortbread and fudge cookie scrapped the cardboard container for a (No. 6) plastic wrap. The tray inside is (No. 5) plastic, which can also be recycled. The Girl Scouts and ABC Bakers estimate the new package will reduce some 150 tons of chipboard, saving the equivalent of 35,000 gallons of fuel.

Troop 40710, led by Amanda Chastain, said their journey last year convinced them that even simple tasks such as recycling can make a big difference.

"We got to learn how they make clothes out of plastic," said Tahlia Vesper, 14. "That was cool."

Few may realize the plastic bottles from which they drink soda or water can be recycled into polyester and other eco-fibers.

"Yes, I'm wearing plastic," Teagan Vesper said. "And that's good."

For an Earth Day event at McConnell Air Force Base, Briana Lara, 10, produced a project on saving the wetlands. Emma Chastain, 11, created an exhibit she called "The Plastic Plague" showing how grocery bag waste finds its way into and oceans and kills wildlife, including sea turtles. The girls made reusable shopping bags from T-shirts.

"It showed me I could make a difference, too," Briana said.

Watch and listen to the girls talk about how it changed how they live

This year, the troop is embarking on how to reduce clothing waste.

"We hope to kind of make it like 'Project Runway' kind of thing," Amanda Chastain said.

It will focus on upcycling: taking items you don't use and making them into something more valuable that you won't want to throw away.

"We’ll have them go through their closets and find clothes they don’t like any more, or don’t quite fit," Amanda Chastain said. "And then go to a place like Goodwill and find some other things, and upcycle them by taking them a part and putting them together into something they would want to wear."

The goal is to have other troops join them in creating new fashions out of old clothes.

"And then we could have a big runway show and encourage people to upcycle," Chastain said.

As any parent knows, getting a preteen or teenager to wear old clothes instead of buying new ones could be a huge accomplishment.

Here are some more cool upcycling ideas.