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On a Mission: Blakely students tackle the challenge of plastic

Something was gnawing at third graders at Blakely Elementary. As they sat in the school cafeteria during lunch, they noticed oodles and oodles of single-use plastic being used. Their teacher, Diane Bedell, had recently shared information on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an area filled with plastics about three times the size of France — floating in the Pacific Ocean. 

The students wondered just how much plastic waste was generated by the Blakely Bulldogs and how to inspire the school community to reduce its use of plastic. Their first step was to count how many pieces of single-use plastic were used during lunch one day. Armed with collection bins and signs, the students collected plastic lunch trash (such as sandwich baggies, granola bar wrappers, chip bags, etc.) and tallied the amount. On their count day, 613 pieces of plastic were used. 

Next, they set out to find ways to reduce plastic. They accomplished this by:

  • Creating and sharing a presentation school-wide on the harmful effects of plastic and how to reduce use 

  • Designing educational posters and hanging them throughout the school 

  • Meeting with Elaine Krogross, BISD Food & Nutrition Supervisor, to discuss ways the cafeteria can reduce its reliance on plastic. Krogross quickly got on board and made changes that will soon be implemented district-wide, such as no longer using individual condiment packets or wrapping muffins in plastic wrap. 

The result? Plastic use at Blakely is declining, and the students feel empowered that their efforts are paying off — a second plastic count saw the lunch waste drop by 12%. During a recent visit to the class, students boasted about how their families wash and reuse plastic baggies, why it is better to buy in bulk and why they always use a reusable water bottle.   

"It is inspiring to see a group of students recognize a problem in their world and work together to find solutions,” said Bedell.  “They researched, collaborated, educated others, wrote to lawmakers and took action on a problem they saw needed fixing.”

Students presented their work at a recent BISD School Board Meeting. You can view their presentation here. (Their presentation begins around the 18-minute mark.)