The eye-level stack of plastic foam to which Sydney Gralike pointed will make a few bottles of EcoGLOo, an adhesive solution that was developed by Sydney and five junior high school friends.
In 2016, the girls announced their invention that could minimize a pressing global environmental problem. Since then, sought a patent for the process and made 3.5-ounce bottles of the product, which they sold at a plastic foam recycling event Jan. 11 at the Sunset Hills Community Center. They described the invention as an idea "that will really stick."
The glue is made from recycled clean, white polystyrene (plastic foam, often called Styrofoam) that is dissolved when mixed with water and a nontoxic chemical made from orange peels. A stack of plastic foam the size of a refrigerator dissolves to make two cups of the gooey substance.
David Lenczycki brought a hippopotamus-sized plastic foam mock-up of new Forest Park entry markers. They were so big that he had to keep them outside. Lenczycki, director of planning and projects for Forest Park Forever, had been storing the mock-up because he didn't want to dump it in a landfill. Now, he's bonded with the girls who'll turn it and the other plastic foam collected at the event into EcoGLOo.
Sydney, a member of Assumption Parish in south St. Louis County, put the achievement in the context of her faith. "God created the earth for us and He created all of us — all this for us so we could take care of it," she said.
The project began as part of a FIRST LEGO League Trash Trek project which asks students to identify a problem with trash, design an innovative solution and share that with others. Sydney and classmates at Sperreng Middle School enlisted the help of residents and staff at Friendship Village in Sunset Hills, a senior living community, to find an environmental problem in need of rectifying. They also visited a landfill to see the challenges of handling waste firsthand.
Friendship Village resident Ellie Kaiser met with the students, telling them what was being recycled. She pointed to the 20,000 plastic foam cups the center uses a month as the biggest problem, helping to form almost 200 pounds of waste a month.
After many hours of research by the girls, done while juggling schoolwork, sports and other commitments, the result was the earth-friendly glue. The project to create the adhesive was entered into the White House Science Fair and the girls, now freshmen at Lindbergh High School (except for one eighth-grader), were singled out for a discussion at the White House with then-President Barack Obama. Joining Sydney on the self-named Blockheads Team of inventors are Reagan Mattison, Julianna Jones, Christina Yepez, Sindhu Bala, Caroline Sluss and Claire Sackman. Now, they're involved in a higher level of robotics competition and all but two of them are in the marching band together.
Kaiser, who served as facilities chairperson at Friendship Village, said she told the girls, "Do something with plastic foam and you've really done something wonderful for the world." She attests to the functionality of product, which she used to fix a pair of earrings, a tray and more.
Jim Mesnier, a lawyer who lives at Friendship Village, encouraged the girls to get a patent. In helping the environment, he said, the next step is developing a process that allows soiled plastic foam such as food containers to be recycled. "I just think it's a fantastic thing for the environment if someone turns it into a manufactured product that's marketed," he said.
According to Sunset Hills Mayor Pat Fribis, protecting the environment is something that must be done for "our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We want to leave a footprint for them."
For more information about EcoGLOo, visit www.blockheadinnovations.com. Included on the site is a documentary on the environmental innovation from the producers at GoPro.
Taking care of God's creation is a special responsibility of Catholics, as Pope Francis pointed out in his encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," which presents the theological basis and a moral imperative for protecting the earth and its inhabitants. For information or to read the encyclical, click here.