, Newburyport, MA

July 19, 2013

Students lead the way in limiting plastic-bag use

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

Many of us are familiar with the Margaret Mead quote that reads, in part, “We should never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” It’s just that for most of us adults, even a small change in behavior can be hard to make. I know this is true for me. But, if the group pressing for change is comprised of children and the issue involves the stewardship of the natural environment, the call to action can be hard to ignore.

As I read “Prohibiting Plastic” on the front page of the July 10 Daily News, I was pleased to see the momentum gained for an issue that many of us would not be talking about if it weren’t for the work Newburyport’s children have done to bring it to our attention: reducing or eliminating single-use plastic bags in our city. The article kindly and accurately notes the involvement of NHS students in this movement, but I’d like to add an acknowledgement of the students of River Valley Charter School’s Middle School.

Over the course of this past school year, a group of RVCS students showed the courage to present their feelings on this topic to adults by speaking at board meetings, helping to survey over 100 retailers and writing letters. Following are excerpts from a letter that was signed by 46 RVCS Middle School students and sent to eight of Newburyport’s chain stores, including Market Basket and Shaw’s, in June. The letter shows just how “thoughtful” and “committed” these students are, and explains simple steps that can be taken to make this relatively small change in our world. Now it’s up to us adults to see if we can follow their lead.

“We are deeply concerned by the growing rate of plastic bag pollution in New England and the rest of the country. It is estimated that Newburyport alone uses 5 million plastic bags annually. We feel it is our responsibility to take immediate action to decrease this number substantially as we are aware of the devastating effects plastic pollution is having on seals, marine life and other animals.

“The success of our campaign lies in the hands of Newburyport’s large chain stores, the greatest distributors of plastic bags in our community. We understand the usefulness of plastic bags, but with the growing momentum at the city and state level to place a ban or fee on these bags, we invite you to join us in working toward change through the following steps: training cashiers/baggers to ask customers if they brought their reusable bags; placing signs reminding people to bring their own bags in the parking lots and outside stores; and offering alternatives to plastic bags or completely removing them from your stores.

“Our school saying is, ‘Together We Can Make a Difference.’ We believe this is true and hope you will join us in preserving the health of the planet for future generations.”

Colin Gibney