| Apr 09, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - April 9, 2009 Fighting global warming at LPS, one bag at a time by Wilma Kenny

Students Alex Green, Kayla Gibson and Sarah McFadden.

The last Frontenac County Council meeting on March 19 welcomed a somewhat unusual delegation. Three grade eight students from Loughborough Public School: Alex Green, Kayla Gibson and Sarah McFadden gave a well-organized power-point presentation featuring compelling evidence that the sooner we get rid of plastic shopping bags, the better. Although the county’s mayors weren’t prepared to outright ban the use of plastic bags in the county, they expressed interest and encouragement.

Meanwhile, Alex, Kayla and Sarah are working toward an appointment with the mayor of Kingston.

When this determined trio began their class project in February, they had no idea where it would lead them.

It didn’t take a lot of research to uncover some horrifying facts about our use of plastics: one trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year, with only a tiny fraction being recycled; it can take up to 1,000 years for a plastic bag to fully degrade, and meanwhile, significant numbers of animals and sea creatures die as a result of mistaking plastic particles and bags for food. No one can deny the ugliness of discarded plastic bags caught in bushes, flapping in trees, and eddied into corners.

What can three local public school students do about such an enormous problem? Alex, Kayla and Sarah began by doing a survey of Sydenham shoppers, and learned that at present approximately half try to use cloth or recycled bags. Encouraged, they approached some local businesses, to ask whether they might consider charging customers a few cents for every plastic shopping bag, with the goal of getting more people to make the shift to reusable bags. Although the shopkeepers agreed with their concern, they said they couldn’t risk annoying customers and losing them to the competition, both locally and in Kingston.

"This led us to change our vision," commented Alex, "We realized we had to approach local government for help." They list perseverance, communication, organization and marketing as some of the skills they have developed in the process, and although they have by now more than met the requirements of the original assignment, they’ve printed up another batch of business cards, and have no intention of stopping their crusade now.

A meeting with Sara Boyce and Allan MacDonald, teachers at LPS, soon revealed that the "plastic bag project" is only the tip of the iceberg. Since mid-February, grade seven and eight students have been working on a wide range of sustainability projects, which culminated in a two-day environmental symposium held earlier this week.

These projects have required research into perceived threats to our environment, with the goal of creating a presentation, experiment, project or art piece/performance. The displays filled the gym on Monday March 30: a recycled bike that allowed its rider to power the headlights by peddling, not batteries; composting, both with and without vermiculture; imaginative recycling of plastic bags (heat-fused to form tough, attractive material which can be sewn into long-wearing bags of various configurations,) and of food wrappings (an ‘eco-dress’), and used clothing. There were demonstrations of solar power, wind power and green roofs.

Others examined threats to our trees, polar bears and beluga whales. One display featured a bright, lively garden filled with flowers and funky little creatures bursting out of a blue box, all made out of common, non-degradable waste. It was chillingly entitled "Everlasting Garden", because it could never die.

Tuesday’s program began with a talk by Brenda Hunter, Director of the Limestone School Board, in which she described the steps the board is taking to address global warming by reducing energy use in schools, adopting “green” technologies, encouraging recycling and increasing awareness through new courses.

Laurie Snider, a local author and self-titled "Queen of Green" was the keynote speaker.

She began by listing some of the negative feelings aroused by global warming and the looming environmental crisis: anger, fear, anxiety, depression, despair, disbelief, helplessness and hopelessness. "This can overwhelm us, and have a paralyzing effect, keeping us from working toward the solutions," Snider said, "So it’s important to know there is hope. But it comes with a price tag: work and effort". She spoke of the cumulative effect of small changes: using less energy, eating local, organic, seasonal foods, using reusable shopping bags, consuming less by learning to “share, trade, borrow and repair”.

Snider concluded with a quote from Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has".

The students listened attentively and applauded with enthusiasm. They then went on to spend the rest of the day attending a series of workshops presented on a wide range of related subjects by members of the community. In mid-April, they will be planting some sizeable trees in the schoolyard as carbon offsets for a class trip to B.C., and at the end of the month, they will participate in community clean-up week. 

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