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Arborg students fight plastic to save planet

 by Twyla Siple, Interlake Spectator

Grade 7 and 8 students stand with their teacher, Jay Ewert and the owner of the Arborg Hotel, Owen Eyolfson, in front of Arborg’s municipal office where they presented their ideas on how to reduce the use of single use plastic bags in their community on May 9.

Grade 7 and 8 students stand with their teacher, Jay Ewert and the owner of the Arborg Hotel, Owen Eyolfson, in front of Arborg’s municipal office where they presented their ideas on how to reduce the use of single use plastic bags in their community on May 9.

The Arborg Early Middle School’s Grades 7 and 8 students stood beside their teacher, Jay Ewert, at their local municipal office on May 9, to present a hearing on how to ban plastic bags in their town. 
 
Ewert said that after watching a documentary called “Plastic Ocean” with his students earlier in the year, they started wondering what they could do to help save the planet from plastic pollution. 
 
“All of the kids - wanted to save the world,” Ewart said. “I said, “You know, you can’t save the whole world, but you can start somewhere,” (so) I suggested plastic bags could be a direction we could start with.”
 
Based upon the ideas proposed by similar groups in both the city of Winnipeg and the RM of Eriksdale, the town of Arborg’s Grade 7 and 8 students have banded together to create Students Against Plastic, or SAP for short.
 
The achievement of making their proposal to their town’s council came after becoming inspired by a group of four Grade 12 students highlighted by the Winnipeg Sun on April 3. These students make up SLAM in Winnipeg, the Sustainable Living Academy of Manitoba at West Kildonan Collegiate. They have vowed to stay the course long after high school ends if it means reaching their goal. 
 
Their story really hit home for Ewart and his students. They began their online petition page, applied for a hearing with their local council and continue to lead by example, in their town.
 
They believe that by implementing small ideas like charging five cents for single use plastic bags in their town, it will help remind everyone just how bad plastic is for our environment, starting with their town. 
 
Other little things, like using the hashtag #sacthebag on social media, will help bring awareness to this growing trend towards saving our planet.
 
“The main thing is, we need the average Arborg citizen to buy into this idea, mentally,” Ewert said.
 
“How many of you have a closet full of plastic bags ready to be donated?” Ewert asked the room during his presentation to not just the council, but also to some of the parents of his students. A number of hands went up. 
 
Ewart’s students created a very informative information package that they handed out to members of council, and a slide show, while presenting their case. Also in attendance was the president of Arborg Hotel, Owen Eyolfson, who has already began looking at banning plastic straws from his establishment.
 
“We are currently only offering plastic straws if people request them,” Eyolfson said that by simply not delivering them in drinks until requested, he is doing his part in eliminating plastic waste in his town. As a member of the local chamber of commerce, Eyolfson has been helping champion the plastic bag ban alongside Mr. Ewart and his students.
 
“We had a meeting with some major plastic bag users in town about a week and a half ago and it went really well,” Eyolfson told The Interlake Spectator on May 4.
 
SAP wants to begin with the five cent fee for plastic bags and have local stores offer a bin full of cloth bags for people to use at no charge. 
 
“We could generate a program to collect cloth bags on behalf of Arborg,” the presentation said. “Using cloth bags makes it less likely for people to throw them out.” 
 
The presentation outlined their intentions of sending all proceeds of the plastic bag fees toward recreational activities for the employees of Riverdale Place Workshop, their town’s garbage and recycling facility, to be utilized at the discretion of their director for the wellbeing of Riverale’s programs.
 
The presentation also described how habit loops work, and how Eriksdale already has a similar ban in place.
 
They quoted Eriksdale’s reeve Randy Helgason as stating, “We’ve seen an improvement not just in the appearance of their waste disposal grounds, but also the environmental aspect of if. With the tipping fees peopeare more prone to go the recycling route, and it’ll reduce waste in our landfills, and therefore extend the life of our waste disposal sites, which in the long-run will save our taxpayers money.”
 
While the goal of the bag ban is to reduce the amount of litter being blown about by the wind, they’re also putting another measure in place to help encourage recycling. Helgason once again cites the success in Eriksdale as inspiration to implement landfill tipping fees throughout the whole municipality.
 
Helgason said Council’s currently looking at a by-law to ban plastic shopping bags, which will act as an extension to the current by-law enacted prior to amalgamation. Helgason admits the change would mean a transition, but notes others have seemed to adjust, said their presentation.
 
Ewert said that the students are getting their parents excited, with several parents in the crowd agreeing.
 
“They were excited to hear their kids talking about political, civic issues. Parents were (especially) excited about this civic experience. I think more parents were excited that their kids were excited about it.”
 
Principal Brad Harding told The Interlake Spectator on April 24 that he is proud SAP.
“I think it’s a great initiative - it actually gets kids thinking about outside of the school into our communities and what they can do for our communities as global citizens.”
 
Arborg’s Mayor Randy Sigurdson said that  he was very willing to continue discussing this further with council.
 
“We don’t normally give out any information prior to, but in this particular case, I think everybody is whole heartedly in support of it, so I think it would be fair to say go ahead (and tell your students that we support your idea),” Sigurdson told Ewart after the presentation.
 
SAC’s petition goal is 200 signatures. They are only at 98, as of May 15. 
 
Visit change.org/p/jay-ewert-hey-arborg-let-s-lead-the-charge-on-banning-plastic-bags-in-our-town if you would like to help.
 
 
- with files from Scott Billeck, 
Postmedia Netwo


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