Goffinet McLaren, a Grand Strand resident known for her projects to keep plastic out of the ocean, has long realized that the key to the future health of oceans is helping children realize the value of reducing (and possibly eliminating) the use of plastics.
Especially for those of us who live close to the ocean, we should be more aware of the close relationship between what we buy and use for school and everywhere bears a direct relationship to the health of our wonderful ocean. According to McLaren, the beginning of the school year when we are loading up on supplies of various sorts is a good time to remind ourselves and our children about the need to look for products that are friendly to our oceans and avoid those that are not, especially plastics.
Although you probably have already purchased most of your child’s initial supply list there are still many things you and your children can do to keep plastic out of the oceans—at school and at home. One of McLaren’s recommendations is to refuse plastic bags whenever they are offered. “Just say no thank-you,” she advises. “Bags can be ingested by birds and other wild life.” One other thing McLaren wants us all to avoid is plastic straws. She cites these as hazardous to animal life because like bags, animals can think they are food as well and they cannot be digested.
When it comes to buying replacement or additional supplies, consider what you already have and don’t buy anything unless you have to do so. When you must buy something, McLaren says to avoid plastic, even for those products that you might think are “re-useables” like cups.
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“Plastics can leach into the liquids and food,” she notes. Lunches packed at home offer many opportunities to be ocean-aware. She suggests using paper lunch bags, bamboo or other types of cups, steel water bottles—never plastic water bottles or cups.
McLaren’s relationship with the children’s group is exemplified by her book Sullie Saves the Seas, in which a seagull teaches readers that, “Plastic is drastic.” Soon this book, with expanded material will also be available in a coloring book version. She sees the book is a good teaching tool on the dangers of plastic and the need to reduce the use of plastics overall. When the use of plastic is unavoidable, such as receiving plastic packaging with items you purchase, then recycling is the next step.
Greg Sponseller, Sustainability Analyst, Horry County Public Schools, says that when buying paper, look for products that are labeled as recycled by the “Sustainable Forestry Initiative.”
Sponseller is at the helm of the School system’s efforts to reduce waste and recycle collected water. He notes that of the 1,000 pounds of food waste collected daily in the school system, much is made into compost and that some of that goes back to schools to fertilize school garden projects. Both Sponseller and the Horry County Solid Waste Authority support initiatives to reduce the use of plastic whenever possible.
Sponseller notes that one of the several ways the school helps keep plastic water bottles from multiplying is to offer refills at “filling stations” in the county schools. “The best way to reduce the impact of plastic on the environment is to reduce its use. Use re-usable containers in school lunches, instead of the hundreds of Ziploc bags we find daily in our cafeteria trash,” he advises. Recycling bins are a fixture in county schools. Many schools also participate in road debris clean-up projects to keep trash out of the Intracoastal Waterway and the ocean.
Victoria Johnson, Horry County Solid Waste Authority recycling coordinator, goes to schools throughout the county to speak on recycling. She says, “Plastic is not biodegradable, Plastic bags are the worst. They blow around and get into the ocean and can clog our recycling machinery. The Pacific Garbage Patch is made of plastics that do not biodegrade, Plastic bags can kill turtles and other wildlife that might eat them.” The recycling service in schools is provided free by the waste authority . Johnston estimates that schools were the contributor about one quarter of the more than 1500 tons of trash collected last fiscal year (July 1, 2015-June 30, 2016).
McLaren is also available to speak in school and soon she will be armed with her new coloring book version of Sully Saves the Seas. She knows that children can make a difference and cites the One More Generation group, whose work she supports and speaks about, found by an delight and ten year old pair of animal lovers in Atlanta that have taken their message of reducing plastic use all over the country.
McLaren has raised the alarm for a cause that we can all benefit from and that is as easy to participate in as reducing the use of our plastic, refusing plastic straws, and properly recycling what we do use. Avoid it. (plastic) After all, as Sullie says, “Plastic is drastic.”