The 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. RAFT provides educators with the ideas, inspiration, materials, training and support to bring hands-on learning to life.

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.

A student builds a model hovercraft from a CD, bottle cap, and balloon to experiment with friction and air pressure.

A student builds a model hovercraft from a CD, bottle cap, and balloon to experiment with friction and air pressure.

Materials like bottle caps are donated to RAFT and upcycled into math game pieces and musical instruments for young learners. The Hovercraft RAFT Activity Kit makes use of another often discarded item, a CD, which becomes a floating device when combined with a sports bottle cap and balloon. This kit provides the student with an engaging project to test the effects of friction and air pressure on motion. 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. 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.

“What a wonderful way to recycle the materials that would normally be wasted! How empowering for teachers to know that we can get computers, chairs, office supplies – all at prices we can afford,” said Eve S., RAFT member. “These items, combined with carefully chosen educational materials, have enabled me to teach hundreds of students.”

RAFT is a certified 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. The organization is also able to offset electrical usage due to the recent donation of a solar system atop its San Jose headquarters. Especially important during this period of drought throughout California is RAFT’s participation in the South Bay Water Recycling program administered through the City of San Jose. These operational modifications reinforce the organization’s emphasis on reducing environmental impact while increasing resources available to improve education.

Businesses interested in donating surplus materials, manufacturing discards, extra promotional products, lab equipment, or office supplies should visit for additional information on contributing to RAFT’s innovative upcycling programs.