Sackville, NB – Moving Away from Single-Use Plastics
Jack Layton Award | Winner
Project Engage! is a student-led community engagement project where students at Marshview Middle School worked with a Mount Allison University student to identify an environmental issue in our local community and to study the impact of that issue and possible solutions to the problem. The Environment Group, also known as The Mighty Earth Warriors identified single-use plastics as a particularly significant issue in local restaurants in our community and one that is identified as an issue in the community Sustainability Plan, known as Sustainable Sackville. The vision states that ‘In decision making and actions, the Town will strive to minimize its negative impact on the environment.’’ The group’s vision is that we have a responsibility to act as custodians of nature, to protect both the health of our communities and the health of natural ecosystems. The plan states that “Sackville embraces sustainability as the foundation for our environmental, social, and economic wellbeing” so the group wanted to measure the amount of single-use plastics were present in our restaurant and food sector and report their findings to the Mayor and Council and the larger community, including their peers at the school. Their overall conclusion was that “it is important that we use less plastic, move towards sustainable products and services and come up with technology that recycles plastic more efficiently.”
This was a completely student-led group of 8 youth members of Marshview Middle School and one Mount Allison Student. They met each Wednesday afternoon from 1:00 – 2:30 as part of the Engage! Program. They developed a research methodology that included surveying the Manager of each restaurant and food sales location in the downtown area of Sackville to measure the amount of single-use plastics being used in their operations. They also researched the global issue of single-use plastics in the environment and specific issues with micro-plastics and land-fill and recycling issues associated with single-use items. Further, they visited the local waste management facility, ECO 360 in Moncton, NB to research the recycling process and the scale of the problem in our region of Canada. After surveying each restaurant, the students created a research results presentation, including the degree to which single-use plastics were being used, why they were being selected by store owners, and ways in which these places might use different products and processes in their businesses. This community engagement process was then shared with all 300 students, teachers and parents at a school-wide assembly in December of 2018. The Mighty Earth Warrior members then took their results to the Mayor and Town Council, presenting their project at a Town Council Meeting and listing several recommendations for change in the Town’s sustainability plan. Finally, the group members wrote an Op-Ed article on their project and why it is important for all citizens to be aware of that was printed in the local newspaper, The Sackville Tribune Post.
The challenge of the ease of use of single-use plastics became apparent to the group – particularly that the cost of plastics is so cheap and it is so convenient for users to simply throw this all away. The challenge of not knowing or caring about where all of this waste goes is an on-going issue and this group spent much time discussing the ways in which we must address the behaviours of people in dealing with this critical environmental issue. The group chose to research and educate themselves, the business owners and the larger community through active citizenship through community engagement. Success was seen in that many of the restaurant owners and managers agreed to change the way in which they prepared food and have since switched to alternative methods for packaging. The youth were also highly successful in presenting their project and recommendations at an official meeting of the Mayor and Town Council that was broadcast on local Cable TV and covered by local media. Town officials have also responded to the group and have committed to a complete revision of the Sustainable Sackville Plan and the specific recommendations made by the Might Earth Warriors. These public commitments to change have ensured the ongoing sustainability of this youth-led community project.
Youth leadership was present through-out the entire Engage! project, as it was developed and implemented by a small group of Marshview Middle Schools students (8 young women) that collaborated with a student from the local university and presented this important issue to the entire school, the Town Council and the larger community.