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Environment: WMS students get lesson from peers in curbing plastic

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Olivia and Carter Ries, founders of an environmental group called One More Generation, told students at Waccamaw Middle School last week about ways they could help eliminate plastic pollution.

Olivia and Carter, accompanied by their father Jim Ries from their home near Atlanta, were invited to the school by Goffinet McLaren of Litchfield. She met them when environmentalists came through the area in 2013 on a bicycle tour to raise awareness about plastic polluting the world’s oceans. McLaren was impressed with the children’s passion and offered the support of the superhero from her book, “Sullie Saves The Seas,” a seagull who rallies her friends to remind humans that pollution is harmful.

“This is the wave of the future,” McLaren said after the presentation. “We are in the plastic generation right now, but we’re going to be moving into the anti-plastic generation very soon.”

Olivia, 12, and Carter, 13, said their journey of awareness began when their aunt adopted two cheetahs in South Africa for them. They learned about many animals on the brink of extinction in addition to the cheetah: black rhinos, tigers, mountain gorillas and others.

After the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the children spent five days working with the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Center saving 146 turtles, several sharks and even a dolphin. A veterinarian from California challenged them to take on the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans, and they accepted.

Eliminating plastic from the waste stream is their latest passion, and it has a direct effect on the animals they love so much. Birds, turtles and fish all eat plastic, they said. They showed a photograph of a baby albatross with a cigarette lighter and other plastic litter in its gut.

They showed plastic bags floating in the ocean that looked like jellyfish, the favorite food of sea turtles. When turtles swallow the bags, they feel full but slowly die of starvation. They showed a baby snapping turtle strangled on a plastic ring from a Gatorade bottle and a baby otter with its head stuck in a plastic grocery bag.

Encouraging the use of canvas grocery bags is one of the first steps to removing plastic bags from the environment, Olivia said. When plastic bags are mixed with other recyclables, they are removed and discarded in landfills.

“Plastic bags clog the sorting machine,” Jim Ries said. “The recycling center does not want them. The No. 1 workers-comp expense is paying for injuries sustained by employees pulling bags out of the blades. The only place you can recycle them is at the grocery store where they are not mixed with other trash and don’t have to be sorted. The best thing is to stop using these things.”

They also taught Waccamaw Middle students about the types of plastics used as food containers. Not all are recyclable. They said to look at the number inside the recycling logo and to avoid plastic containers with numbers 3, 6 and 7.

The rule of thumb, Jim Ries said, is that if plastic stretches it’s recyclable; if it tears, it is not.

A plastic container bearing the number 7 is the worst, he said, because it’s made of the cheapest resin and is classified as “other” plastic because it’s a recycled mixture. “We don’t know what it is,” he said.

Students can force change by refusing to buy products in plastic containers that cannot be recycled, he said.

A number of Waccamaw students were called to the stage for a recycling demonstration, and their reactions to learning that not all plastic was being recycled ranged from sad, to angry, to enraged, to disappointed, to not caring.

“That’s all right,” Jim Ries said. “Each one of you has the power to effect change, to vote with your wallet. When you find something in No. 7 plastic packaging reject it and buy a product in plastic No. 2.”

Carter and Olivia have approached the retailer GameStop and restaurant O’Charley’s about reducing their use of plastic bags. They said eliminating plastic waste starts with one bag. “Everybody in this room has the same power to effect change as Carter and Olivia,” Jim Ries said. “They are just kids like you guys. They have homework, regular chores at home — just like every other kid. The difference is that they spoke up and told an adult what they are passionate about.”

Waccamaw Middle School student Addison Marshall said she learned a lot about recycling from the One More Generation founders. “The kids all seemed very excited,” she said, “more than the other assemblies we’ve had.”

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