Outing Trash: Girl Scouts Rally the Troops to Reduce Plastic Pollution

 Sandra Meola

Sandra Meola

The New York Times recently reported that the average American throws away 10 single-use plastic bags per week. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that some eight million tons of plastic waste end up in the oceans each year. Even scarier, fish and shellfish eaters could be ingesting up to 11,000 microparticles a year.

Some readers may be turned off by these daunting statistics and feel like there is nothing they can personally do to make a difference, but it’s clear that big problems require big solutions for those willing to accept the task. As these startling statistics make headway in mainstream media, citizens are beginning to understand their own role in cumulative environmental impacts, as well as their role in addressing long-term problems. Here are some highlights of active efforts in NJ to reduce plastic pollution:  

  • Girl Scout Troop 19 in Teaneck, NJ, successfully lead a grass-roots campaign for two years to minimize single-use plastic bags. A fee was implemented this past July after being passed by Teaneck Council in July 2016. The Scouts passed out reusable bags at local grocery stores, collected signatures, and educated citizens about the harmful impacts of plastic bags on our environment.  
  • Environmental Commissions and Green Teams throughout New Jersey are discussing ways to educate residents and prevent plastic pollution and waste. The Board of Commissioners in Ventnor passed an ordinance requiring stores to charge a fee for single-use bags at checkout. Ventnor’s Green Team is applying for grant funding to be used for reusable bag giveaways for customer convenience.
  • Berkeley Heights Middle School 7th graders collected plastic bottles and bottle caps to create a life-sized sea turtle and killer whale from over 200 plastic water bottles. Their goal was to increase awareness about the impacts of plastic pollution to marine life through publicly displaying their artwork. Check out their time lapse video here.

These examples of community action bring us to a larger idea at hand. A positive shift toward civic involvement seems to be occurring on many levels. Student and community groups are realizing that solving challenging problems requires broad-based effort and collaboration. I've seen these efforts demonstrated through my work in plastics reduction, green infrastructure advocacy, and land conservation as more citizens are motivated to do what is ethically appropriate to sustain their community for themselves and their communities. Seeing these stories unfold gives a glimpse of new possibilities of society’s creative problem-solving, and the process is invigorating.