trash-teachingThe world celebrates Earth Day on April 22. At RAFT (Resource Area For Teaching), every day is Earth Day. RAFT recycles more than 140,000 cubic feet of materials each year into engaging learning tools for students.

RAFT was founded in 1994 with foundations in a simple yet powerful idea; students learn best when they are active in the learning process. Hands-on learning has been proven to deliver a richer, deeper understanding to students, especially with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects. For twenty years now, providing educators with the hands-on learning ideas, inspiration, materials, training and support has been RAFT’s mission.

Providing affordable hands-on education tools that engage students and increase their learning comprehension is achieved by upcycling donated materials from local businesses that would otherwise end up in landfills. For instance, what happens to the plastic caps manufactured for juice bottles when the diameter is just a millimeter smaller than required to ensure a tight seal and the freshness of the contents? Imagine, too, what happens to the hundreds or thousands of all those slightly defective caps that cannot be used for their intended purpose.

CD case turned seed-sprouting germinator

CD case turned seed-sprouting germinator

Materials like bottle caps are donated to RAFT and “upcycled” into math game pieces and musical instruments for young learners. The Germinator RAFT Activity Kit makes use of another often discarded item, a clear CD case, to create a window display into the wondrous world of plant growth. This kit provides the viewer with an unobstructed view of sprouting seeds and an experience in scientific methods of observation and measuring. Donated materials are often part of the inspiration for RAFT’s pre-packaged Activity Kits, which are used to create a build-it-yourself learning experience for students.

The practice of upcycling has resulted in awards for sustainability from Acterra, an environmental education and action nonprofit, and San Mateo County for RAFT Activity Kits. “As an educator, I have used RAFT materials for over 20 years with thousands of students,” said Nancy Meyer, K-12 art teacher and camp programs instructor. “The materials RAFT provides give students early on the idea of the multipurpose use of ordinary items to make, design, and spark the creator in all of us.” Upcycling delivers an abundance of affordable hands-on learning materials and supplies for educators and their students while also diverting roughly 400 cubic feet of materials from landfills each and every day.

RAFT was recently re-certified as a Bay Area Green Business, a program that is part of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to help companies make the switch to green business practices. “Our commitment to the practice of sustainability extends to RAFT’s internal operations’ practices,” stated Doug Lang, RAFT Director of Operations. “One of RAFT’s core values is ensuring standards of environmental practice are in place like the use of certified green cleaning products, the proper disposal of light bulbs and batteries, and the installation of water aerators to reduce water usage.”

In addition to a steady and usable supply of donated materials, RAFT relies heavily on community support like the thousands of dependable, hard-working volunteers who assemble the hands-on Activity Kits. Financial support from donors underwrites the true costs of what RAFT has to offer its member base of educators. A nonprofit organization, RAFT serves 12,000 educators each year who teach more than 900,000 students. Find out more about RAFT and how to get involved at