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‘If it’s the only planet we have, we’re going to make it last’: Local 11-year-old recycles thrown out books, stuffed animals to reduce waste

Something Good

Zach Hartman then donates the books to schools, organizations and the stuffed toys to animal shelters across the country

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Eleven-year-old Zach Hartman is on a mission to help Mother Earth, a passion that began several years ago with orders from his own mom and dad to take out the trash. He did, of course, but he also did a little dumpster diving.

“I went digging through the trash to see what we were throwing away, and I found out we were throwing away books and stuffed animals,” said Zach.

He did some research and was alarmed to learn that 300 million books are discarded into landfills each year. He also learned that a lot of parents throw away stuffed animals that their kids have outgrown because many resale shops don’t accept them.

Within a year, he’d launched “Zach’s Planet,” a community service project aimed at reducing waste. His work is making a difference.

“I’ve collected and donated over 65,000 books and I’ve sewn up 3,000 for pet care and Humane Societies,” Zach said.

He estimates he’s kept 20 tons of used items out of landfills and saved more than 2,400 trees by reusing books.

Zach recruited members of his Cub Scout pack, martial arts studio, and Humane Society Kids’ Club to help collect and distribute books and toys. He also set up a website, ZachsPlanet.com, where he asks for book and stuffed animal donations, as well as monetary donations which help him ship his collections across the country.

Zach carefully sorts books into age-appropriate groups and distributes them wherever there’s a need. He takes the most pride in a delivery he made to students at the former Lee Elementary Magnet School. The historic Tampa school was nearly destroyed by fire in 2017. More than 1,000 books were delivered to students’ new classrooms.

“One kid asked me, ‘how’d you get all those books, you’re just 10’? And I said, ‘a lot of people like to share!’” Zach recounted.

Zach also distributes books to Free Little Libraries across the country.

The unwanted stuffed toys that Zach collects are sent to Glad Dogs Nation. The organization sanitizes the toys, removes the hard eyes and noses, and ships them back, along with squeaky inserts, which Zach sews into the animals. The toys are then provided to animal shelters.

For his efforts, Zach was recently among just 17 young environmental activists recognized as a 2020 International Young Eco-Hero by the organization Action for Nature. The award recognizes eco-conscious youth aged 8 to 16 for their creative initiatives aimed at tackling environmental challenges. Zach received an honorable mention in the 8- to 12-year-old age category. The nod is more motivation for Zach, who plans to continue helping others.

“I like volunteering because it makes me feel good, and I’m really happy when I do it,” Zach said, adding, “if it’s the only planet we have, we’re going to make it last.”

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