Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 7, 2007

It's in the bag

Elementary students launch campaign to reduce plastic packaging

by Arden Pennell

Just before Halloween, three Addison Elementary School teachers helped students count plastic bags in lunchboxes and found an average of 25 per classroom. But by Wednesday that average had dropped to less than one, thanks to a student-led waste-reduction campaign, second-grade instructor Jackie Hurd said.

Since vowing to cut down on bags on Oct. 30, students have brought the message home and convinced parents to dig out Tupperware and shun disposable packaging, she said.

Older students who pack their own lunches simply made the change themselves, they said.

"We have this humongous drawer of Tupperware that nobody ever uses except sometimes after dinner. So I just went in there," fifth-grader Sasha Landauer said.

"I knew we had them, but we never used them. I don't know why," she said.

And kids can do more than change their household, said City Council member Peter Drekmeier, who visited Addison on Wednesday on Hurd's invitation.

Students should become politically involved by attending council meetings or petitioning members to reduce or ban bags, he said.

"To me, if there was a bunch of kids in the audience who stood up and said, 'I care about the environment,' I would take it very seriously," he said.

A total of about 60 kids from Hurd's class, a first-grade class and a fifth-grade class came to the talk.

Teachers of the three "buddy classes" have been leading students in daily bag tallies, they said.

A single plastic bag was counted on Wednesday, according to charts on a white board.

Students help each other by suggesting strategies, Hurd said.

"You know, 'Today Emma brought her cookies and sandwiches in one container,' or 'He's going to re-use that yogurt container when he's finished,'" she explained.

And Drekmeier encouraged students to provide input for the council's ongoing "zero-waste" plan, he said.

"The city is already working on this, but we need good ideas, and we need community involvement," he said.

Council members narrowly approved the plan 5-4 in September after disagreeing about several aspects, including whether and how to implement plastic-bag bans.

Drekmeier, who voted in favor of the zero-waste initiative, said students could write the council to petition that merchants charge for the use of bags or ban them entirely.

It was kids who encouraged adults to recycle in the early 1990s, he said.

"Kids can make a difference, I think, when it comes to plastic bags. That's going to be another example of kids leading the charge," he said.

Community awareness is also important, he said, asking students for suggestions about how to spread the word.

Several said showing people a picture of a sea turtle eating a plastic bag mistaken for a jellyfish would help others understand the harm bags can cause.

In the meantime, the three teachers are seeking to root out plastic bags from the larger school community.

"We presented it to staff ... during the staff meeting yesterday, and we're spreading the word to other teacher friends [in Palo Alto]," first-grade teacher Robyn Galloway said.

Addison Principal John Lents is also planning to reward students, she said.

Staff Writer Arden Pennell can be e-mailed at


Posted by mn, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 8, 2007 at 11:44 am

I sympathize, but I re-use plastic bags to line garbage receptacles. Is it really a crime to not want to wash out garbage and trash pails/cans?

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2007 at 2:42 pm

I suppose after all the kids are at grade level with reading and math they need something to keep them occupied.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2007 at 3:05 pm

I do the lost and found at one of the elementary schools. The cart has loads of re-usable sandwich containers, etc. which have not been taken home to re-use. Please check out the lost and found at schools to reclaim your lunch containers as well as your jackets, sweaters, etc.

Thank you.

Posted by plastics, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2007 at 7:29 pm

Kids should have as few plastics as possible in their lunchboxes. Plastics contain additives such as phthalates that are dangerous for their health (endocrine disruptors and/or carcinogens). Phthalates are actually banned in Europe but still common in plastic products in the US.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2007 at 8:02 am

When you consider the toll of unclean and spoiled food through the ages, you have to balance that against the questionable peril of plasticizers. As someone who has had his share of paper bags disintegrate in the rain, I say tht usefulness outweighs dangers. This is another Children's Crusade.

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