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Teaching the next generation of Nevada County to rethink plastic use


Who: PWR (Plastic Waste Reduction) Coalition

Website: pwrcoalition.com

Email: pwrcoalition@gmail.com

Facebook: PWR: Plastic Waste Reduction Coalition

Instagram: pwrcoalition

To join a sewing party or volunteer to sew pouches from home, email pwrcoalition@gmail.com.


Donated stainless steel fork and spoon drop off locations:

-The Onyx Theatre: 107 Argall Way, Nevada City 1 to 8 p.m. daily.

-The Union newspaper: 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. through Fri.

-To make a monetary donation, visit http://www.pwrcoalition.com

Last winter, when Allison Rivers Samson and her family took a trip from Nevada County to Bali and Thailand, they were shocked to find many of the beautiful beaches strewn with plastic. The waves, too, were carrying visible plastic containers as they washed up onto the sand.

It didn’t take long to learn that the trash was not a result of an apathetic community. In fact, teams of people cleaned the beaches every morning, only to have more plastic return in the afternoon.

“I learned that due to the currents, much of the plastic was coming from the U.S.,” said Rivers Samson. “Roughly 90% were single-use containers, lids and straws — all things we don’t need to be using. It was heartbreaking. I wanted to rededicate myself to reducing the use of plastic.”

Back at home, Rivers Samson, a retired vegan chef who is now a sustainability consultant, began thinking of ways to create reusable alternatives to single-use plastic utensils.

“Initially I thought of making wooden sets to distribute throughout the community,” she said. “But personally I found that I didn’t like the feeling of wood while I was eating. Stainless steel silverware seemed to make the most sense.”

Through friends, Rivers Samson was introduced to Susan Nance, known affectionately in the community as “The Anti-Plastic Queen.” A longtime conservation advocate who has been concerned about the growing problem of plastic in the environment and its detrimental effects on the ecosystem, Nance was instantly on board with Rivers Samson’s ideas.

As a result, the pair have now created the PWR (Plastic Waste Reduction) Coalition as a way to address the growing problem of single-use plastic in the world. Their first project has been to educate and empower youth in Nevada County schools by encouraging them to take the PWR pledge to reduce their own plastic use. Teaming up with the nonprofit Sierra Harvest, students are encouraged to begin using their own “PWR Pack,” which includes a reusable stainless steel spoon and fork in a washable pouch that is provided by the PWR Coalition. Because not every family can afford a $15 case with reusable utensils, all PWR Packs are free. In the spirit of minimizing consumerism, they are made from fabric and flatware that has been found in thrift stores, at yard sales or donated by individuals.

Donation drive

The PWR Coalition has now launched an October donation drive, where they are asking community members to dig through their silverware drawers or scour thrift stores and yard sales for surplus stainless steel forks and smaller spoons. Also needed is tight weave, heavy duty cotton duck fabric, a minimum of 21 inches in width, to be used for making pouches. All silverware and fabric is sanitized in accordance with health department regulations prior to distribution.

“Plastic is a wonderful invention, but it’s not meant to be thrown away after a minute or two,” said Nance. “Not using plastic utensils is something people actually can do. There are many things we can’t control — we have to wait for the laws to change. But I can decide what fork I’m using. Plastic utensils last 450 years on the planet — minimum. Kids need solutions, and through our presentations in schools they’re learning what they can to reduce the use of plastic. We want to empower them. It’s all about habit change, a shifting of our mind-set.”

An offshoot of this project has been the organization of multigenerational sewing parties, where community members gather to sew the pouches, made from a simple pattern designed by Nevada County resident Shari Wilson. To date, sewers have ranged in age from 13 to 92. Some also opt to sew from home. Currently, the team is in search of dark colored, earth-toned, patterned fabric.

The goal for October’s donation drive is to give away 1,000 pouches to students in western Nevada County, said Rivers Samson.

“Our mission is to create a blueprint that other communities all over the world can draw from,” said Rivers Samson. “This is just our first project — who knows what we’ll do next.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.


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