Hoping to Save the Environment, Bell Gardens Students Study Plastic Bag Ban

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

After several failed attempts, a State Assembly committee on Wednesday approved a bill that authorizes a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in California grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores and pharmacies. The vote comes one day after students in a Bell Gardens High School advanced placement environmental science class got to work trying to achieve the same goal closer to home.

With AP (advanced placement) exams out of the way, juniors and seniors in Patricia Jimenez’ class on Tuesday decided their end of the year project would be to explore the possibility of pushing for a ban on plastic bags in the city of Bell Gardens. They are going to research the impact such a ban would have in the city as they prepare to ask residents if they are willing to trade in their plastic bags for reusable totes.

The students have until the end of the school year in June to research, survey, and develop a strategy to determine the feasibility and environmental benefits of banning the bags distributed by retailers in the city.

AP Environmental Science students at Bell Gardens High School on Tuesday discussed the pros and cons of banning plastic bags in the city.   (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

AP Environmental Science students at Bell Gardens High School on Tuesday discussed the pros and cons of banning plastic bags in the city. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

It’s a proposal that according to Bell Gardens City Manager Phil Wagner has never been considered by the city.

“This is a project that we want to bring [to the community],” said Kimberly Valle, 16, one of the more outspoken students. “It’s not like we’re expecting them [residents] to change from one day to the next,” she said.

The 25 AP students, some of the school’s highest academic achievers, have studied water pollution this year. The course has made them more aware of the detrimental impact human practices, including man-made items like plastic bags, have on the environment. They also understand that there is often resistance to change, and on Tuesday discussed the possible roadblocks they could face if they take their project outside the school venue and into city hall chambers.

“Are we making them switch to paper?” asked one student.

“Who is our target audience?” asked Brian Sanchez, 17, one of the group team leaders.

“I think we should survey outside stores,” suggested Viviana Rodriguez, 17. “If you just survey the students, it’s not like we’re the ones going out to do the shopping,” she said. “It’s our parents who do the shopping,” she emphasized.

After much debate, the class decided they would talk to students and everyday consumers like their parents about the importance of saying goodbye to plastic bags.

“Plastic bags not only contaminate because of the plastic, but the way they make them involves oil, which becomes a polluter,” said Valle. “Students are going to be the next generation … to deal with it,” she said.

The environmentally conscious group brainstormed ways to reach out to local businesses that may be willing to offer discounts to customers who bring in their own reusable bags.

“In the long run, if they are not using plastic bags it’s lessoning [the company’s] consumption” costs, said seventeen-year-old Cecilia Botello. “But my mom is going to say, ‘if I have to buy a bag then I want something out of it.’”

Vianney Avina, 16, told the group that once the class has finished their research, they should take their findings to a Bell Gardens City Council meeting and ask the council to approve a ban on plastic bags in the city.

“[City hall] is our main target because once they enforce it, all the stores have to enforce it,”  Valle said.

The class hopes to transform their ideas and words into action by coming up with environmentally and scientifically sound research to back their call for an end to  city’s retailers being allowed to give out plastic bans for free.

“If we just tell our families, ‘let’s all stop using plastic bags,’ they’re are not gong to listen,” said Valle. She suggested they print pictures showing where plastic bags end up as a way to get their parents’ attention.

Botello suggested using social media to promote their message.

“If we get them to scroll down and see the photos, we at least know that they thought about bags for at least five seconds.”

Playing the devil’s advocate, student teacher Wesley Hom reminded the class that getting people to stop using plastic bags will not be easy. He said many residents might not care about the environment and like the everyday convenience free plastic bags offer when they shop.

Students argued, however, that ensuring a green environment for future generations is a valuable long-term goal.

“If other cities can do it why can’t we do it,” said Valle. “Bell Gardens is not a big city and yes we’re mainly Latinos, but Culver City has a lot of Latinos … and the Latinos adapted,” she said referring to other cities such as Santa Monica, Los Angeles and Culver City that have all recently banned single-use plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores and pharmacies. She said those cities require businesses to charge customers for paper bags if they don’t have reusable bags. The added cost is an incentive to change, she said.

Hom, however, pointed out the “difference in culture and demographics” in those cities compared to Bell Gardens. He said those differences could make a ban harder to achieve.

As the students murmured among themselves about ways they could convince an entire city of mostly Spanish speaking, low-income immigrants to change their long-time practices for a new practice that would likely cost them more money, one student was clearly not swayed that theirs is a lost cause.

“Granted, it’s a different group we’re targeting, but if they can do it without focusing on all those cons then why can’t we,” said Valle. “We’re taking a step ahead of the game … [But] if we don’t make that step now, when we’re older we are going to pay for it.”

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

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May 15, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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