Pushing out single-use plastics: Nevada Union junior begins campaign to remove plastics from Nevada County schools
If there’s one thing Grey Vogel knows, it’s plastics.
The Nevada Union High School junior has studied the nuances behind some of plastics’ dangers. Polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polypropylene — Vogel has familiarized herself with each of these materials and their maladaptive consequences for nature as well as humans.
Last week, Vogel gave presentations to Nevada Union’s student congress and student site council about those problems and how to best avoid them. The problems, she states, are numerous: the chemicals attack hormones and put pressure on the reproductive system; many stem from a non-renewable source; and they are overfilling landfills, including a 80,000-tons of buoyant plastic known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which sits in the Pacific Ocean and is greater than the size of Germany, France and Spain combined.
“Our beaches stop being a safe place for marine life, and we become predators, if you will,” she said.
Vogel’s solution, while possibly difficult to maneuver, is simple in its conception: rid Nevada County schools, beginning with Nevada Union, of single-use plastics, including plastic cups, forks, spoons, knives and straws.
She hopes to replace these materials with polylactic acid (PLA) materials, which are biodegradable.
“It is a renewable resource,” she said. “It is nontoxic and it doesn’t contain any of the harmful chemicals.”
Some staff members and administrators at Nevada Union, like principal Kelly Rhoden, have supported Vogel’s mission.
“(Vogel) did an amazing job presenting to our site council (meeting),” said Rhoden in a phone message. “She brings up some very valid points.”
Rhoden said she’s now in discussions with the cafeteria staff to understand replacement costs, and has invited Vogel to present at the next Nevada Joint Union High School District meeting.
The cost of switching from single-use plastics to PLA material in the high school district, or elsewhere in Nevada County, according to a number of sources, appears to be unknown.
Vogel said some staff members at Nevada Union have told her that the estimated cost increase would be anywhere between $1,200 and $1,800.
Jeff Coats, the food service director for the Grass Valley Child Nutrition Services, otherwise known as Central Kitchen, said he didn’t know specifically how much the transition would cost. He noted that about 1,000 spork and napkin packages per case used in its school distribution sites cost about $18.67. With 270,000 meals per year at one school site, those plastics costs school districts — like Union Hill, Chicago Park, Penn Valley — about $5,040 per year.
Coats, who has helped reintroduce salad bars and paper trays at schools to reduce plastic waste, said trying to remove plastics is a noble aim.
“That’s a great goal,” he said, “and I think we’d all like to go there.”
Vogel noted that although the project appears to be a no-brainer, some people minimize the issue of plastics. But when that occurs, she said she reminds people of the larger problems they can cause, like the harms targeting marine life and the oceans where it lives.
“This isn’t a little problem,” she said. “This is a big problem and it’s very prevalent and it’s everywhere, and someone’s got to do something about it.”
To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4219.
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