Eco Club students chart a course for reduced plastic waste

Members of Mahtomedi High School’s Eco Club test their homemade boat built from plastic bottles collected from the school cafeteria. They aim to bring awareness to the impacts of single-use plastics on the environment. 

Plastic is one of the most versatile substances on Earth, but also one of the biggest contributors to environmental pollution. A group of students at Mahtomedi High School is working to bring awareness to the impacts of single-use plastic this June by launching their own plastic masterpiece—a boat made entirely of recycled plastic bottles.

 Juniors Ashley Jones, Katelyn Lawrence and Audrey Strand have been hard at work for the past year collecting the materials and constructing a seaworthy vessel, which they plan to launch on White Bear Lake on June 11. The students set up a donation bin in the school cafeteria, collecting bottles that would otherwise be discarded. They spent last summer and the last school year cleaning the bottles and getting creative with tape to form their homemade watercraft.

  “The finishing touches were some wings on the side and a wave breaker on the front, and after a few tests, it can fit two people and be rowed across a lake,” the students told the White Bear Press via email.

 The project has been several years in the making, said Eco Club advisor Jim Lane. The boat was originally supposed to debut during the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic intervened. However, the Eco Club was able to pull off a similar project that involved building a sculpture from waste plastics collected in a single day. It was composed of 280 individual containers of single-use plastic, Lane said.

 Single-use plastics are plastic materials designed to be thrown away or recycled after use, such as disposable water bottles, plastic bags, straws and food packaging. Although some plastics can be recycled, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that of the 35,680 million tons of plastic generated in 2018, only 8.6 percent was recycled. The remaining plastic went into landfills. Since plastic is designed to be flexible and durable, it does not decompose quickly. Instead, it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces that are washed downstream through waterways and eventually into the ocean. The effects of these microplastics are still being studied, but microplastic particles are present in the most remote parts of the world and ingested by humans and wildlife on a regular basis.  

Avoiding the use of single-use plastics altogether is the best option to combat the growing problem of unmanageable plastic waste, said the Eco Club students. 

“We want people to think about reducing their plastic use and realize how much waste only a few weeks can produce,” they wrote.

Jones and Lawrence will pilot the recycled boat on its maiden voyage to Chautauqua Beach, and Strand will help launch the boat from the shore. Prior to the launch, the students plan to speak to attendees about their experience building the boat and the need for alternatives to single-use plastics. 

“We have been campaigning for the school to replace their one-use plastics with reusable alternatives, and this can start with students making active decisions to stop buying these plastics,” the students wrote. “We also want to see community members make the switch to reusable products and realize where their waste ends up.”

Disposable water bottles are common in the school, but Eco Club students want to see more reusable options offered to students. 

“If our school can focus on getting students to use water fountains, bring their own bottles, and use plastics in moderation, we can improve as both a school and as people,” the students wrote. 

The plastic bottle boat will set sail from Mahtomedi Beach on June 11. The event starts at 4 p.m. Members of the public are invited to attend, join the flotilla and learn about reducing plastic waste. Boats, kayaks and paddleboards are invited to follow along, and attendees can meet the voyagers on their final destination at Bellaire Beach if they wish.

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