Inspired to take action by the successes of large cities and many towns in NY in passing ordinances to ban or impose fees on single use plastic bags, K-12 schools are launching a campaign to pressure the City Council to consider the issue more seriously. While secondary school students cannot vote, they feel strongly that the pollution, not to mention the cost to the city of taking single use bags out of the waste stream, is a problem they do not wish to inherit.
Interest in a campaign grew after Hewitt School and the Green Schools Alliance announced they would host a Plastic Bag Summit on March 2nd, including a panel discussion by top experts on the topic, as well as New York City Council Member Brad Lander (Brooklyn's District 39), who said:
"I am looking forward to joining the Hewitt School and the Green Schools Alliance next month to think together about how to reduce single-use plastic bag use in New York City. When you see more plastic bags than birds on the branches of many city trees, the urgency of this issue is clear."
- Ron Gonen - Mayor Bloomberg's Deputy Commissioner for Recycling and Sustainability
- Jennie Romer - Founder and Director, plasticbaglaws.org
- Eric Goldstein - New York City Environment Director, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
- Stiv Wilson - Communications and Policy Director, The 5 Gyres Institute
- Maite Quinn - Manger of Business Development and Marketing, SIMS Municipal Recycling
The Hewitt School event will also include a screening of the popular documentary "Bag It" as well as a workshop led by a representative of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment on how to create a campaign to institute a bag ordinance. The power of student-run conferences like these is it gives students an opportunity to engage in the legislative process outside of the classroom, and join forces with other groups already engaged in this effort, such as the Clean Seas Coalition, which was instrumental in getting plastic bags banned in San Francisco and is guiding other cities in their efforts.
According to the EPA, between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Americans alone throw away over 100 billion bags a year, and the average American uses about 500 plastic bags each year for around 12 minutes before throwing them away.
Every hour, approximately 200,000 plastic bags are landfilled and may take 1,000 years to break down. For the plastic bags that become litter, rain washes them into bodies of water where they threaten the lives of avian and marine species that can die from consuming or choking on the bags. Plastic pollution travels through our local waterways, eventually reaching the global oceans. On average, 46,000 pieces of plastic are swirling in each square mile of our oceans.
We should all support their efforts to pass legislation that leaves our cities cleaner and more sustainable. Todays students are tomorrow's leaders, and with 120,000 K-12 schools touching the lives of 80 million people (parents, faculty, staff), schools have become an impressive laboratory and force for change. While the US government continues to stall on meaningful climate change legislation, schools are in fact leading the way in national sustainability efforts.
For more information about the Hewitt Summit and the efforts by so many other schools committed to sustainability, visit the powerful information sharing platform created by the Green Schools Alliance.