This blog was co-authored by Cason Hancock, a senior at Carnegie Vanguard High School.
In recent months, reports on the harmful effects of single-use plastics for both humans and wildlife have gone viral in the news and on social media. The news for many comes as no surprise, but the lingering question remains – what can we do about it? Here at home, students at one local high school saw the need for change, and challenged themselves to find a solution, with the hope of inspiring their community to do the same. The Student Conservation Association (SCA), in partnership with Carnegie Vanguard High School (CVHS), received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do something incredible and they delivered: the reduction of single-use plastics on Carnegie Vanguard’s campus and increased knowledge of the region’s waterways.
SCA and CVHS approached the grant from a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) perspective. With the EPA funding, every student and staff member received a reusable water bottle, 4 water bottle filling stations were installed on campus, 640 high school students received education about local waterways, 100 CVHS students participated in hands-on conservation experiences, 150 elementary and middle school students received programming about the health of waterways, and CVHS designed and built an Art Car as part of the outreach on single-use plastic reduction. Partners throughout the grant included Galveston Bay Foundation, Bayou Preservation Association, Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, the CVHS Parent Teacher Organization, and Houston-Galveston Area Council. The most visible part of this project was the construction of the Art Car. Generously donated by a parent, the Nissan Maxima was transformed with a hand-painted coral reef mural and 3D sea creatures. The picturesque scene was threatened by a wave of plastic bottles crashing ashore. The wave was built from the collected plastic water bottles on campus and the car’s 3D turtle gets its body from the bottle caps collected. This message on wheels was presented to the local community in Houston as it competed in the 31st Art Car Parade. Amanda Feldman, a senior at CVHS reflected on the experience of showcasing the vehicle to 250,000 Houstonians: “Working on the art car was a fun experience and knowing that the car would make an impact made all of the work worth it. With the Art Car Parade being so popular, I know a lot of people were exposed to the idea of single-use plastic reduction and I hope it has impacted them”.
Post Parade, the art car is back on the high school’s campus, surrounded by two model water bottles standing almost 7 feet tall that represent how much CVHS has reduced their consumption of single-use plastic bottles. Since the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, students and faculty on campus have reduced their consumption of plastic bottles by almost 43% compared to the numbers recorded during the 2016-2017 school year. The team of students that spearheaded this initiative concluded that the decrease was largely due to the instillation of water-refill stations and the distribution of reusable water bottles to the student body. The introduction of these alternatives to single use plastic bottles also raised awareness as to how one small action can make a huge difference. From senior Ernie Vita’s perspective, “there are many things in life that are hard to change, but reducing single-use plastics is not one of these. And in making the change, there is a large scale impact without sacrificing much.”
The Houston Zoo has also committed to reducing its consumption of single-use plastics, having gone plastic bag and bottle free in order to save wildlife like sea turtles and pelicans that often encounter plastic debris that has traveled downstream and ended up in the ocean. There are water bottle filling stations located zoo-wide, so on your next visit, we encourage you to join the wildlife saving movement by bringing your own reusable water bottle! As we continue to eliminate the need for single-use plastics on zoo grounds, Carnegie Vanguard High School says the water bottle filling stations, recycling bins, and push for single-use plastic reduction will remain on campus with the hope of a greener, more wildlife friendly, plastic-free school.