Local student wins EPA award creating plan to reduce wasteful packaging

Excessive packaging for food and household supplies is a real problem for the environment. A local student has a plan to help cut down on the waste.

"This particular robot has the ability to pick up basketballs," Peter Randall, Chairman of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy Engineering and Robotics Department, said.

16-year-old Karina Chan-van der Helm and her advisor and mentor, Peter Randall, have a little fun in the robotics lab at the Academy. Karina was part of the team that programmed the robot.

The impressive Springside Chestnut Hill Academy junior has a passion for STEM. She recently received a 2022 EPA Presidential Environmental Youth Award for her algorithm on how to reduce excess packaging and cut down on the needless amount of trash that winds up in landfills every year.

"Obviously, if I have a chance, an idea, to make a difference, then I should," Karina stated.

Her project, called "Conscious Consumers" calculates the product’s weight versus its packaging weight, or how much product there is, compared to how much packaging and the type of packaging and then rates it, using a five-star rating system. She says a microSD card weighs one gram. The packaging is 25 grams.

"This would get a rating of zero stars, because this is as bad as you can get," Karina said.

She says a power pod earns five stars. "Just the right amount of packaging. Not too much, all compostable, so good for the environment."

"I think the thing Karina brought to it was a real sense of, ‘I have to be fair.’ It can’t be one girl’s opinion. It has to be based on science or on fact," Randall commented.

Karina says the goal is to educate consumers and get them on board. "If customers are asking for better packaging and pushing for that, then that will force companies to change their packaging. We’re all living on this earth. It’s important to us, so we have to keep it healthy."