Plastic Pollution, Youth
June 26 2019

Bridger Surfrider Student Club Fights Plastic Pollution at Portland Schools

by Ryan Cruse

Our Bridger Surfrider Student Club has been working hard to tackle plastic pollution at their school in Portland, OR through education, activism and even starting a business! 

Beeswax Wraps

Their journey to reducing single-use plastics started when teacher and club advisor Laurie Shonkwiler made a set of beeswax wraps for the class as a way to help them bring lunch in reusable containers.  Before long the demand grew from other students and parents, so the class launched a website (https://www.bridgerbeeswaxwrap.com/) and began selling the wraps after school, with the goal of fundraising for their zero waste field study to the Oregon Coast to study the effects of micro plastics on our ocean ecosystems (see below!). So far they have raised over $4,400 dollars and have involved 40 students from both 5th grade classes!

Testifying at Portland Public School Board:

In addition to working on reducing plastic waste at their school by providing alternatives, the students from Bridger School Surfrider Club also recently wrote argumentative essays for removing single-use plastics to the Portland Public School board and presented them at their May meeting. The school board was so impressed with their work they asked them to join a high school group addressing these issues moving forward.

In the picture the kids are showing the board members how to use their new beeswax wraps. See the bottom of this post for an incredibly well written letter that one of the students wrote to the School Board. 

Watch the club members testify in front of the Portland Public School Board. 

Field Study Beach Trip:

The Bridger School Surfrider Club joined forces with the Sam Case Elementary Surfrider Club (the classes are also pen pals who’ve been sharing what each classroom is/was working on to reduce plastic waste in our schools and the planet) for an action packed field-study trip to the Oregon Coast. The students explored tide pools, learned about specific plants and significant landscape characteristics of the area, heard native storytelling of the local tribe’s history, and practiced mindfulness/yoga practice. They also organized a beach clean up (tracking microplastics), participated in a group fish dissection, made art (with microplastics from the cleanup) and last but not least - learned effects of pollution on their local ocean ecosystems!

One goal of the trip was to be zero waste so the students collected all food scraps for compost, sandwiches were wrapped in beeswax wraps and each student had their own mesh bag with a  plate, bowl, silverware and cup (these will be used again for next year’s field study). They estimate that they were 75% successful on their zero waste goal and already have plans to improve for next year. 

The beach trip was a collaboration between three 5th grade classrooms, Olivia Schroeder (Sam Case Elementary in Newport), Laurie Shonkwiler (English Class- Bridger), Alex Freeman Spanish Immersion Class - Bridger). Shout out to Consuelo Kammerer who was a big part of organizing this field study. 

The Bridger Surfrider Club wants to serve as a resource for other students and teachers that would like to do a field study like this or launch a beeswax wrap program - contact Laurie Shonkwiler for more info: lshonk@pps.net

 

Letter from Student to the Portland Public School Board

“Dear PPS Board Members,

 I am in Mrs. Shonkwiler’s 5th grade class and I go to Bridger school.  All year Mrs. Shonkwiler has been teaching us about the effects that plastic has on our ecosystems. We have worked hard on becoming a zero waste classroom. We have started a business selling beeswax wraps, a zero waste alternative to plastic wraps. We raised 5,000 dollars and attempted to go zero waste on our field study to South Beach State Park. We have met with Tobias Read, the Oregon State Treasurer, and discussed the devastating effects that plastic has on our ecosystem. Our class has created awareness about climate change and we are also Surfrider members. 

I am speaking to you  because I believe that the school district should minimize the use of single use plastic in the cafeterias, such as single use plastic straws, utensils and wrappers. I believe this because plastic is unhealthy for our bodies and the environment. 

One reason PPS should not serve single use plastic in the cafeteria is because it is unhealthy for our bodies. Many people think plastic is harmless, but boy are they wrong.  Plastic has harmful chemicals in it, all of which can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and the immune system. In addition, the food that students are served for breakfast comes wrapped in plastic. When students eat the breakfast, they are also consuming the harmful chemicals and micro plastics. This can lead to cancer and mental illness.

Another reason PPS shouldn’t serve food in single-use plastic is because it is unhealthy for the environment. According to Eco Watch, 80 percent of plastic in the oceans comes form land based sources. Moreover, dead whales with tons of plastic in their stomachs are washing up on shores and beaches. Also, at least 10,000 species go extinct each year because of plastic. When plastic is being made, fossil fuels and other chemical emissions are released into the air, which is contributing to climate change. The United States alone is responsible for 15 percent of greenhouse gases and emissions. By serving single use plastic, you are contributing to this problem. Furthermore, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have only 12 years to stop climate change or it will be irreversible. In 12 years, I will only be 22 years old. This is a very alarming reality to me. Due to past generations unwillingness to address this problem, my generation is faced with the knowledge that we need to come up with a solution. That is why we are asking you to do your part and make a difference. By getting rid of plastic in PPS, you would not only be making a difference that will help 49,000 kids in 81 schools, but also you would be making a positive impact on our environment. 

What can You, The PPS Board, do to help minimize the use of single use plastic? I’m so glad you asked.  A few ways to minimize single use plastic in our schools are:

Replacing plastic utensils with silverware.

Replacing plastic aprons and single use plastic gloves with cloth aprons and washable rubber gloves.

Eliminating juice boxes with straws.

Serving fresh fruit and milk for breakfast.

In conclusion, I believe that Portland Public Schools should reduce the use of single use plastic NOW- WE CAN NOT WAIT.  Plastic has been proven to be unhealthy for our bodies and the environment. Before I go, I have one question for you. Are you going to continue to be part of the problem, or be part of the solution?”