A class at Westmount School is out to make a difference on two wheels.
Working with the Foothills Salvage Centre and members of the community, the class will repair old, discarded bikes to donate back to the community. This project is to encourage people to repair items before throwing them away to buy new, and to get people outside more on their brand new, repaired bikes.
The project was born out of the Waste in Our World and Simple Machine science units part of the Grade 4 curriculum.
“The project started where we sort of looked at waste and how to make it better,” said teacher Graham Campbell. “I had this idea to teach Waste in Our World through bicycles and I wanted to introduce this idea to kids that there’s people who throw away bikes that just have brakes that don’t work.
“That’s not okay. That’s where the idea came from.”
In an effort to show the students the real-world impacts of wastefulness, the class visited the salvage centre at the Foothills Regional Landfill to see for themselves the work that is done.
“The kids really picked it up and they’re starting to make it into their own thing,” Campbell said. “We did a thinking routine where the kids went even further than that and said well if we give someone a bike, then they’re just going to ride it for a year and it’s going to end up back here.
“So maybe more than that, we need to teach people how to fix bikes in a basic way so that bikes don’t end up back here.”
To facilitate this project, Westmount School partnered with Todd Martin and his son Finn, who created ReCycle Okotoks as a hobby.
An environmental scientist and past-mechanic, Martin and his son began fixing old bikes three years ago, starting when Finn outgrew his bike. Having given the old bike to a neighbour, and then fixing a bike for another boy on the street, the wheels were officially turning.
“Then one day we came to the salvage centre and I saw the whole rack of them back here and said maybe we could start fixing some of those up as a hobby, so my son would learn how to fix bikes,” said Martin. “So one bike led to two bikes, led to five.
“Now a couple years later we’ve given 50 bikes away since September, and we’ve probably pulled 100 bikes out of here in the last two years, fixed them and found new homes for them.”
The Martins fix bikes and donate them to the community at no cost, and operate a trading system as well.
“Some people, if they outgrow a bike and want to go into a bigger one, they give us their older one, we give them a bigger one,” said Martin. “It’s just a horse-trading scenario.”
Operating now through the Facebook page ReCycle Okotoks, Martin said word-of-mouth is how they work.
”We don’t even need a story, if someone needs a bike just send us a message and if we have one it’s yours,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
Finn, Martin’s son and a Grade 4 student at Westmount as well, finds the experience very rewarding.
“It’s a fun little hobby my dad and I have. We have our bikes stored right next to my dad’s workshop,” he said. “We’ve just built up from one bike, led to two bikes, led to five… to over a hundred. It’s wonderful.”
Julie Echlin, manager of operations at the salvage centre, said the project is an important first step.
“It’s just a throwaway society,” said Echlin, referring to the mission of the salvage centre to divert usable items from the landfill. “[The salvage centre is] kind of unique in Canada, in Alberta, but you’re going to see more of it in the future, I know. It’s happening, people are trying to reuse, fix things and repurpose as much as possible.
“I think the way of these young people is to educate them at a young age, and other countries are doing that, educating kids at the school level, and it’s great, they’re learning. Even if it’s just with bicycles, it starts that learning process for these kids.”
Victoria Riley, a mom of one of Campbell’s students and a former teacher, is a strong proponent of the project.
“This program that he is running is incredible,” said Riley. “It’s the real-world applications of what Grade 4 is teaching in action here. I think there couldn’t be a more valuable lesson for the kids to be learning. For the kids to understand that they can be environmentally friendly, they can help divert some of this garbage from the landfill, that things after one use aren’t just garbage, there’s more life to them.”