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UNC Charlotte’s SDG Club Based on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals

by | Jul 12, 2022

My name is Mackenzie Smart. I am a recent graduate of UNC Charlotte. While undergrad, I created a club called The SDG Club (based on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals) in March 2021. I had previously participated in the Millennium Fellowship which is run by the United Nations and selects campuses across the globe to participate in SDG projects for a semester. I had enjoyed and learned so much from the experience that I wanted to continue it. Thus, the club was created!

Our club’s mission is to educate and inspire change through student-led projects (SDGs) within our campus and throughout the Charlotte community. The first project we completed (and repeated this summer) was the crayon project. Since then, we also have three other projects underway that we work on mainly during the school year. Those are: Tent City Project (where we work to educate and make policy change for homelessness), Zero Waste Project (where we work to educate and make policy change for sustainability and climate change), and The Pantry Project (where we partner with our Jamil Niner Student Pantry to increase awareness about the pantry and decrease the stigma surrounding food insecurity).

The Crayon Project is an initiative I came up with based on my experience as a waitress in a restaurant that gives away crayons to children. My co-workers and I noticed how many crayons were just being thrown away when they had so much life left in them. I flashed back to being in elementary school and having an end-of-year event where we took our broken crayons and melted them down in the teacher workroom to make new, colorful, whole, usable crayons. So, I figured why not try it! I bought green buckets from dollar tree, slapped a little poster on it about the initiative, and started visiting all the restaurants I could find in Cornelius, Huntersville, Davidson, and Charlotte (around UNCC) that gave crayons to their customers. Summer 2021 we had buckets out at 23 restaurants, and we also collected a lot of donations from neighbors through Nextdoor. I collected from around June to August and my club members (and reluctant family members, haha) began peeling the wrappers off of the crayons and separating the crayons by color. I bought molds from amazon (some of which were donated by a grad student named Kaitlyn) and started melting the crayons down in my microwave.

We had green UNC Charlotte cups donated from Dr. Medina in the education department of UNC Charlotte and had more printed with our logo. Dr. Medina’s class volunteered their time to help package thousands of crayons into the green cups. I also took those paper wrappers and blended them with water to make a pulp in my blender. I then added wildflower seed mixes and formed little hearts to make seed paper. A few members and I dropped off 159 packages to the kindergarten classes at two Charlotte schools: Newell Elementary (Ms. Macdonald) and Niner Elementary at Amay James (Principal Broome). Each student received a package that contained 8 different colored crayons (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, and black), a coloring sheet about the crayon’s life story and the SDGs, and seed paper. All of this was packaged inside the green plastic cup that the kids could use to plant their seed paper or house their crayons.

Fast forward to summer 2022: we tried to learn from last summer’s experience. We expanded to Concord, so we have around 40 restaurants with buckets collecting crayons. We also collected crayons from the two elementary schools that we partnered with last summer after they cleaned out their classrooms. We are hoping to hold a back-to-school volunteer event at UNC Charlotte to efficiently separate the crayons by color, peel off the wrappers, and make seed paper. We might even be able to include another elementary school because of the added restaurant donations. We are also toying with the idea of using something different than plastic cups for packaging.

Crayons seem so miniscule and menial compared to all of the climate action efforts being done around the world. But it is estimated that in America, we throw away millions of usable crayons every year. They end up sitting in landfills for years before they’re broken down because they’re made from paraffin wax. Crayons are an integral school supply for kindergarteners to express themselves and learn in creative ways. Our goal is to show students and the community that we can reduce our amount of waste and reuse things that still have so much life left in them. In the process, if we can cross an item off of a school supply list so parents and teachers won’t have to worry about buying it, that is wonderful, too! We diverted thousands of crayons from sitting in a landfill last summer and gave them a brand-new life in kindergarten classes. We look forward to continuing this project every summer and hopefully seeing other families, schools, or groups also repeating this project in their own way. Last word of advice: I would encourage parents who bring their kids out to these restaurants and use the crayons to locate the green buckets at the front of the restaurant and have your kids be a part of the project! It helps bring us all together closer as a community.

Find us on instagram and tiktok: @unccsdg

Summer 2021 Davidson participants:

  • North Harbor Club (ended up being our highest donor!)
  • Famous Toastery (closed this summer so can’t participate, but were amazing last summer)
  • Sabi Asian Bistro
  • Mandolino’s (loved participating but didn’t use many crayons so it wasn’t worth keeping a bucket there)

Summer 2022 Davidson participants:

  • North Harbor Club
  • Sabi Asian Bistro

Bio-Mackenzie Smart

Mackenzie Smart is recent graduate of UNC Charlotte. While undergrad, she created a club called The SDG Club (based on the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals) in March 2021. She previously participated in the Millennium Fellowship, which is run by the United Nations and selects campuses across the globe to participate in SDG projects for a semester.

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