- Grade 7
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This year, Timothy Christian’s Grade Seven class (aka “The Seven Squad”) discovered the extent of the problem of marine plastics, and decided to do some things about it.
Our exploration began on a sunny Fall day in late October, when we visited the Stanley Park Aquarium, where we listened to a presentation on the huge, global, and overwhelming problem of marine debris and how it pollutes our oceans and negatively affects marine organisms. We learned that scientists predict that if we don’t change our ways, if we don’t stop using single-use disposable items (like styrofoam and water bottles), the oceans will contain more plastics than fish by 2050!
After listening to this presentation, we participated in a shoreline cleanup near the Aquarium at Devonian Park in order to see for ourselves how much shoreline litter there was and to observe how much of that was plastic. We collected 27 kgs of debris and 1,565 cigarette butts! (And we learned that they contain toxins and microplastics that negatively affect sea life as they travel up the food chain).
Back at school, we not only did more research into plastics and their effect on the marine environment, but we observed our own habits, both at school and at home. We tracked our class’s garbage for the week by stapling all of it to the wall outside our classroom. We quickly realized how quickly single-use ziploc bags and styrofoam from our cooking class added volume to our garbage! Also, we took pictures of our families’ weekly groceries and calculated what percentage was wrapped in plastic, and were shocked to observe that more than 80% on average was wrapped in some type of plastic (and this, of course, excludes the plastic bags that were used to bring the groceries home!). This information was also displayed on the wall outside our classroom in various graphs.
We were quickly motivated and mobilized to take action after realizing that we wanted to be a part of the solution, not only a part of the problem. Not only did we pledge to reduce our own personal disposable plastic use, but we wanted to take action both in our school and in the community. We produced posters about reducing plastic use in the school and posted them throughout both campuses. For our teachers’ pro-d day, we prepared a video to show them. it pointed out the problem and urged a change in the school’s habits, especially around styrofoam; we suggested alternatives. As a result, the school has decided to stop using styrofoam for school events, and from now on, milk and chocolate milk cartons would be recycled instead of being thrown in the garbage. We received many comments from those who watched the video and who viewed our hallway display. One teacher wrote to us, “The garbage display in the hallway was an excellent visual of how much unnecessary waste is produced and how easy it is to reduce. Now I make a conscious effort to use only Tupperware containers instead of ziploc bags for my lunch so that the only garbage produced is granola bar wrappers. I was also guilty of occasionally using Styrofoam cups for coffee or plates for snacks. Raising awareness about the permanence of plastics as it biodegrades into microplastics, causing harm to the environment and wildlife is so important and is a good reminder of the role I play in that process. I won’t be able to use Styrofoam with a clear conscience, understanding the negative implications of that poor choice when there are so many other options available.”
But we didn’t stop there. We wanted to make an impact in our broader community as well. First, we asked a local city councillor, Sam Waddington, to visit our class and to explain more clearly how the plastic that we throw away in Chilliwack ends up in the Pacific Ocean, and to discuss with him how we could practically work in the community to address this problem. Out of this discussion, we formed several groups in our classroom and prepared presentations. One sunny December day, we headed out to do community advocacy work in Chilliwack. Some students produced posters about stopping plastic use; these went up at local grocery stores and Starbucks outlets. Others produced signs that they erected at the Fraser River, informing people that “plastic kills” and to “take out what you take in” in order to avoid harming marine life. One group of students spoke to local restaurant owners, discussed the problem of using styrofoam for takeout and its effect on the environment, and presented them with a pamphlet with various alternatives to styrofoam. Another group visited with our local MLA, Laurie Throness, and presented a video to him and asked him to work to expand the EPR recycling program in our province to cover major appliances (in order to lessen the problem of illegal dumping). Lastly, some students visited local farmers and suggested alternatives to using plastic to wrap silage on farms. Every student in the class did his or her part on this community action day; as we did so, we increasingly recognized our personal and social responsibility to keep our earth and environment healthy.
In these ways, we tried to become a part of the solution to the problem of marine plastics personally, in our families, in our school, in our community, in our province, and in our world.