As the school year comes to a close, the folks at Home ReSource have been reflecting on our educational programs and the pivots we have made during these uncertain times. A beloved program we are committed to continuing and expanding in a safe, healthy and engaging way is the Zero Waste Ambassadors Program (ZWAP!).

This award-winning, STEM-aligned, interactive program is designed to help Missoula’s youth think critically about materials – where they come from and where they go – and to empower them with the knowledge that their choices really do matter.

Educating the community about social, economic and environmental sustainability and justice is absolutely essential, and we at Home ReSource are working hard to initiate and engage the public in these conversations, starting from a young age.

ZWAP! reaches hundreds of fifth graders every year, many of them eager to take action and embody what it means to be a Zero Waste Ambassador. Throughout the program, Home ReSource educators provide a total of 4 hours of engagement for each fifth-grade class through an in-school lesson and a field trip to Home ReSource.

The curriculum focuses on the Materials Economy - the system defining how materials flow through society, from extraction to disposal - and how it differs from the Earth’s natural, cyclical systems in which materials are not wasted but rather enrich new life. We discuss the global impacts of the Materials Economy (such as climate change, pollution, and human health) by challenging students to think about where everyday materials come from and where they go once we are done with them.

Every classroom presentation brings surprises, in the form of thoughtful questions and answers and bizarre knowledge some 5th graders possess. “Why can’t we send our garbage into space, the sun, or a black hole?” “Won’t people be out of a job if the landfills aren’t as busy?” “Will businesses suffer if we reduce what we buy?”

This is just a sampler of the contemplative points raised in the classroom, leading to rich discussions about what an equitable, just, Zero Waste world might look like.

Following the classroom lesson, classes are invited to visit Home ReSource for a tour and discussion about what it means to be a Zero Waste Ambassador. The field trip incorporates hands-on activities (such as ZWAP! The Game and a Reuse Scavenger Hunt) to provide fun and meaningful ways for students to learn and think about Zero Waste. We also discuss the good things that can happen when we make choices to reduce waste, and inspire and empower students to get involved in the Zero Waste effort.

The final piece of the ZWAP! curriculum, which some schools get to partake in, is a trip to the Missoula landfill, where students get a first-hand view of where the “away” in “throw it away” really is. Being in the landfill, standing on and surrounded by the things we throw away can spark some incredible questions and discussion points, all of which contribute to the richness and successfulness of ZWAP!.

By the end of the program, students who agree to take one or more of our ambassador actions are invited to sign our ZWAP! wall and be inaugurated as Zero Waste Ambassadors. And who wouldn’t love a chance to write on a wall? By the second field trip this spring, the ZWAP! wall had over 3000 names! That’s 3000 students who now have the knowledge and desire to reduce waste in their homes, schools, and communities. 

And ZWAP!’s reach truly does extend beyond the classroom, to the families and friends of these Ambassadors. Many kids candidly take ZWAP! to heart, encouraging their loved ones to reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, and rethink our relationship with materials. Though the coronavirus pandemic posed many challenges to this and other important educational programs, ZWAP! has endured. The curriculum has been adapted and moved online, providing free, ready-to-use lessons and activities for anyone to utilize.

Home ReSource envisions and promotes a just and vibrant world built on the principles of sustainability where the potential of people, community, and materials is realized. We are committed to educating, inspiring, and empowering the community to cultivate such a vision - which is why we have worked so hard to continue on with ZWAP! through this tumultuous time. We have witnessed the impact and power of ZWAP!, and are hopeful that many of these young Ambassadors will soon become leaders in the Zero Waste World.

Hillary Sward is an Energy Corps Member and Zero Waste Educator at Home ReSource. Sarah Lundquist is the Zero Waste Education Manager at Home ReSource. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has postponed or cancelled many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community and a handful of compelling readings. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

It’s farmer’s market season! The markets look different this year to protect public health, but both the Missoula Farmer’s Market (at the XXXXs) and the Clark Fork Market will have online ordering for pickup at the market available throughout the season, starting May 23. Check their websites for more details. CFAC also has a great list of local food resources for consumers.

June 1-6. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Virtual Rendezvous. This six-day digital event features online hunting and fishing workshops, in-depth panel discussions on conservation priorities and time-honored Rendezvous favorites like the Public Land Owner Film Fest and Filson Campfire Stories. Don’t miss an exclusive early showing of Patagonia's new film Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands on June 6. Read more and purchase tickets here.

June 8. The Story of Plastic virtual screening & panel discussion. Climate Smart Missoula, Families for a Livable Climate, Ecology Project International, and Home ReSource have partnered up to offer a free virtual screening of The Story of Plastic. This film takes a sweeping look at the man-made crisis of plastic pollution and the worldwide effect it has on the health of our planet and the people who inhabit it. Stick around after the screening to join in a conversation about the plastics crisis, its relationship to the climate crisis, what’s happening in Montana, and empowering ways to take action and make a difference. Tickets and more information are available here.

June 10. Online Tomato Workshop. Want to grow beautiful and bountiful tomatoes? Learn the ins and outs of tomato care from Garden City Harvest ‘s Orchard Gardens Farmer, Clare. More details and sign up here. has many virtual activities listed – they’re stepping up to help us all stay engaged.

What we’re reading (and listening to) this week: