Nevada County students who saved park take on bag ban |

Nevada County students who saved park take on bag ban

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

Students from five Nevada County schools have banded together to ban plastic bags in the area.

The effort takes cues from the students of Grass Valley Charter School, who were prominent figures removing the South Yuba River State Park from California’s budget-induced closure list in February of last year.

That widely publicized initiative is chronicled in the locally funded documentary “How the Kids Saved the Parks,” which will be screened Saturday morning at downtown Grass Valley’s Del Oro Theater along with the documentary “Bag It,” which looks into plastic bags, where they come from and where they go.

“The opportunity for our students to be involved with an authentic, local issue was very empowering — one well worth repeating this year,” said Grass Valley Charter teacher Alex Ezzell

Already, more than 50 ordinances have banned single-use plastic bags, covering more than 70 jurisdictions statewide. Coupled with ongoing efforts, about one-third of Californians currently live in a jurisdiction that has banned or is considering banning single-use plastic bags, according to environmental organization Heal the Bay.

A statewide ban has been proposed before — a current version garnered the state Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee approval at the beginning of the month.

“Too often, young people are presented with the dire problems facing our communities without being given the opportunity or tools to address those problems. This leads to disempowerment,” Ezzell said. “It is our goal to give those students interested in being involved the tools they need to identify and resolve these problems.”

Truckee is also considering an ordinance that would ban all plastic checkout bags but allow area businesses to offer customers recyclable paper bags for an undetermined fee. All generated funds would be kept by the businesses to cover implementation costs.

“While the bag ban is a process not yet finalized, it is envisioned that this ordinance would apply to single- use handled plastic bags. Not to produce bags, not to sturdy plastic bags, not to take out food, etc.,” Ezzell said. “Purely the single-use handled bags like those at the checkout line of some grocery stores. The ordinance would also (ideally) incur a 10-cent fee for paper bags.”

This isn’t the first local effort to ban plastic bags. Lori Davis’ students at GVCS studied plastic bags in depth in past years as part of the school’s Expedition Curriculum, Ezzell said. Some of those students presented to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors with a proposal to ban plastic bags several years ago. At that time, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors did not adopt such a ban but did encourage the students to take their request to the local city councils.

“The students’ background knowledge and opinions from their experience with Lori Davis, coupled with their involvement in keeping the South Yuba River State Park open, made this an effort students are eager to address,” Ezzell said.

GVCS was approached several months ago by a group of Nevada County residents to see if the students were interested in tackling the plastic bag ban issue.

“I am pleased and surprised that the students who investigated this topic several years ago have held onto the knowledge and are still passionate about a proposal to ban plastic bags,” said Davis, who teaches third grade, also in an email.

Other schools have also climbed on board. Deer Creek, Forrest Charter, Yuba River Charter and Nevada City School of the Arts have all pitched in. In total, Ezzell estimates that between 200 and 250 students in grades three through eight have discussed petitions, written persuasive letters to the Nevada City and Grass Valley city councils, crafted signs, planned Earth Day events, surveyed business owners and continue to meet and develop strategies.

“We (also) embarked in an ongoing effort to gather and disseminated information, spending time outside local food stores, tallying the current use of bags by consumers, sharing information, petition signing and encouraging Nevada County residents to participate in the online survey we have set up,” said Paula Barber, an eighth-grade teacher at Yuba River Charter.

Students are meeting after school to formulate plans and tally businesses, Ezzell said, of their own motivation.

“It’s not really the roles of schools to dictate political positions. As teachers, we are bringing topics to their attention. Many of them know about the issue of plastic bags because it is in the media,” Ezzell said. “Nobody here is dictating positions to students. As an educator, it is our responsibility to teach them to respond to these issues in whatever way they see fit. As responsible adults, we limit some of their ideas to make sure they remain reasonable.”

Saturday’s screening of the documentaries ill take place from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Del Oro Theater in Grass Valley.

“We would like to give our appreciation to the Getz family for their support of this educational effort within our community,” Ezzell said.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call (530) 477-4236.

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