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Deer Lakes students look for ways to reduce plastic waste | TribLIVE.com
Valley News Dispatch

Deer Lakes students look for ways to reduce plastic waste

Emily Balser
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Emily Balser | Tribune-Review
East Union Intermediate Center fifth-grader Elaina Dietrich, 11, shows how local plastic can travel to end up in the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.
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Emily Balser | Tribune-Review
East Union Intermediate Center fifth-grader Reid Rinker, 11, explains how students can use reusable items to eat lunch on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.
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Emily Balser | Tribune-Review
Clean Stream Cadets at East Union Intermediate Center on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Back row from left are Melanie Brown, Garrett Waybright, Reid Rinker and Elaina Dietrich. Front row from left are Wesley Reagle and Kyle Farmer.

A group of Deer Lakes fifth-graders wants to make sure their school district produces less plastic waste, and they’re starting in the cafeteria.

The six students, known as the Clean Stream Cadets, decided they wanted to do something to reduce plastic waste after learning about how much plastic makes its way into streams, rivers and oceans and how it affects the environment and marine life.

“The more they learned, the more they felt they wanted to do something,” teacher Tammy McQueen said. “I think their passion has been what’s driven their excitement about it.”

The group is made up of East Union Intermediate Center students Melanie Brown, Elaina Dietrich, Kyle Farmer, Wesley Reagle, Reid Rinker and Garrett Waybright.

“We came up with these theme days that we can put in our schools,” Melanie said.

Their ideas for how to reduce waste each day include:

• My hands Monday: The cafeteria is encouraged to serve finger foods like chicken nuggets, pizza and tacos to reduce the need for students to use plastic silverware.

• Bring your own utensils Tuesday: Students are encouraged to provide their own silverware.

“Kids will bring their own forks, spoons and knives from their house to use instead of the plastic sporks and straws that we use here,” Garrett said.

• Low waste Wednesday: Students are encouraged to put their lunch in a reusable container or use biodegradable plates.

• Sweet treat Thursday: Students incorporate food-based shells in which they can put ice cream, yogurt or fruit so they don’t have to use plastic or foam containers;

“(The snack bar) is a huge contributor of plastic, because pretty much everything there is wrapped or packaged in plastic,” Kyle said.

• Fun spoon Friday: Students are encouraged to use spoons made out of dough instead of a plastic spoon.

“We found these edible spoon makers that you can put many kinds of dough in, like pretzel dough or bread dough, and it can make a spoon,” Wesley said.

The students competed in National Geographic’s “Tackling Plastic!” GeoChallenge regional contest in Ohio, where they got third place and a $100 prize to help get their plan under way.

They hope to get it off the ground next school year.

The students realized how much plastic was in their local water systems and outdoor areas after taking a tour of Deer Creek, Bull Creek and Little Deer Creek.

“We came out with five trash bags full of plastic,” Reid said.

They also learned where plastic trash often ends up if it stays in the water.

“It goes from the Allegheny River, into the Ohio River, and then it comes down to the Mississippi (River) and to the Atlantic Ocean and into the North Atlantic gyre,” Elaina said. “We have learned all about the marine life that just gets hurt by all this plastic.”

Jake Douglas, Deer Lakes food service director, said seeing the kids’ interest in reducing waste has been inspiring.

“It’s kind of made me think, ‘What can I do as food services director?’ ” Douglas said. ”I can’t wait to see what they come up with in years to come.”

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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