Esko student discovers passion for recycling; organizes interest meeting Nov. 13

12-year-old boy learns about recycling plastics

David Cornell, 12, of Esko watches a YouTube video from Precious Plastic, an online community that works to reduce the amount of plastics that end up in landfills. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal

Several months ago, David Cornell was at home doing one of his favorite things: spending time with his father, Brian, watching YouTube videos about repurposing old metal tools and products.

At the end of one of the tutorial videos, David, a sixth grader at Esko, noticed a suggested video for Precious Plastic, an online community of people “working toward a solution to plastic pollution,” according to the website.

The community provides strategies and blueprints to build machines at home to help reuse or recycle plastics that would otherwise end up in a landfill. The machines include a plastic shredder that turns old plastics into flakes. Others transform the flakes into a line of plastic that can be used to make raw materials like 3D printing filament.

The plans for the machines on the site are fairly simple and can use other tools and materials that have been discarded. Precious Plastic also encourages its communities to customize the machines for their needs and materials as well as invent new versions.

“They made these machines from junkyards to say, ‘Hey, anyone can make these,’” David said. “They’re basically showing us that you don’t need much to make these and make the world a better place.”


At the time, David and his family were living in Boone, N.C., where his parents were United Methodist pastors. Since then, the Cornell family relocated to Esko, where Brian is serving as pastor at Northwood UMC as well as at Norton Park UMC in Duluth. David’s mother, Katherine Cornell, serves Asbury UMC in Duluth.

Brian said care for the environment is one of the ways he and his family express their faith. Seeing their son display such passion for preserving the environment meant he and Katherine would support him as much as possible in his effort.

“David and I, living in faith, have always thought the care of God’s community is a high priority,” Brian said. “It is an expression of faith within the denomination that says — and makes a high priority of — if God loves you and you love God, then you take on a responsibility to care for God’s creation as well as enjoy it.”

Precious Plastics has communities of people working together to reduce plastic pollution all over the world, but when David arrived in northern Minnesota, he found there were no groups operating locally.

Instead of being satisfied working with the online communities, David is exploring the idea of establishing a group locally. With help from his father, David set up a meeting of others interested in reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills. He has designed some logos for the meeting, made sign-up sheets and reserved Thomson Town Hall for an initial meeting Wednesday, Nov. 13.

David and his dad also used the Nextdoor app to connect with other activists in the area. They hope the meeting can be a springboard to establishing a Precious Plastic group locally and increasing the recycling of plastics regionally. David said they contacted about 40 people and environmentally minded groups, including the Facebook group Zero Waste Duluth. About 11 said they can attend the first meeting and others indicated they are interested in getting involved, but couldn’t make the first meeting.

David is encouraging adults and kids to participate in the meeting and learn some ideas about how to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills.

“We’re open to ideas because just a few of us aren’t going to be able to do everything,” David said. “The more people, the more ideas you get, which means the more things that we could improve.”


If you go

What: Precious Plastics interest meeting

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13

Where: Thomson Town Hall, 25 E. Harney Road, Esko

More info: Contact Brian Cornell,

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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