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Reduce plastic use, students urge

Eco Exeter students encourage us to use reusable containers instead of single-use plastic water bottles.


Eco Exeter students speak to more than 60 people at Partner Appreciation Evening, urging public to reduce use of single-use plastics that can pollute Great Lakes
Students from South Huron District High School in Exeter provide message about moving away from pollution, towards solutions; encouraging people to help keep plastics and other contaminants out of our rivers and lakes

Students from Eco Exeter, at South Huron District High School (SHDHS), presented to more than 60 people at Ausable Bayfield Conservation’s Partner Appreciation Evening, at Ironwood Golf Club, on March 21, 2024. Their topic was Away from pollution, towards solutions: Keeping plastics and other contaminants out of our water.

Presenting were SHDHS teacher Amanda Keller and students Ryan Marsh (Grade 12, Eco Exeter President); Liam Buckman (Grade 12; Vice-President); Sophia Buckman (Grade 11; Secretary-Treasurer); Bria McCann (Grade 11; Social Media Representative); and Aaron Edwards (Grade 11).

The world is producing about 430 million tonnes of plastic per year and two thirds of that is used for a short period of time, according to the students, citing a 2023 report from the United Nations. There is the equivalent of more than 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic dumped, every day, into Earth’s rivers, lakes and oceans.

The students told the crowd how only a small percentage of plastic (less than nine per cent) is recycled after losses and almost half of plastic waste ends up in landfills. Plastic pollution affects the health of people and animals, the students said. Even in Lake Huron, they said, plastic remnants have been found in the digestive systems of different species.

Plastic is made from fossil fuels and it contributes to climate change, the students said. They cite a Center for International Environmental Law report that says “ ... plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product.” 

The students urged people to find ways, such as reusable mugs, to reduce the need for more single-use plastic. The students are continuing their local work with upcoming events such as a community cleanup; educational sessions at the Eco Conference of Avon Maitland District School Board; and other future pollution prevention initiatives.

Eco Exeter was formed in 2019. Since then, the students have reached a wide audience with a message about decreasing use of single-use plastics in order to reduce plastic, microplastic and nano-plastic pollution in the Great Lakes and the world’s oceans. There are more than 20 students in Eco Exeter. The students are featured in a documentary film called Plastic People

These young people are generous with their time, hosting events in the community to encourage reusable bags and reusable water bottles instead of disposable, single-use plastic. They have hosted events such as a clothes swap to encourage recycling of clothes, accessories, and electronics. In 2022, the students donated to local tree plantings. Their $2,000 donation supported work to plant thousands of tree seedlings on private lands and at Triebner Tract near the Hay Swamp wetland complex northwest of Exeter. They took part in a planting day at the property and helped to plant 500 plants and shrubs.

The students have taken part in environmental events, such as County of Huron sustainability events, to provide a youth perspective and to encourage action. The students have shared their pollution-reduction message in local media, at a climate change forum, as a delegation to council, at local businesses and in the community. They have also helped to make changes in their own school to reduce plastic waste and pollution.

The Eco Exeter students were nominated, in 2019, for the Community Advancement Award at the South Huron Business and Community Excellence Awards. The Municipality of South Huron recognized the contributions, to the community, of Eco Exeter, with an award at a council meeting in January of 2024.

Mari Veliz, Healthy Watersheds Manager with Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA), introduced the students. She underlined the importance of conservation education and stressed it is important to “listen to our youth,” and to hear “what’s important to them.” She said ABCA first invited the Eco Exeter students to present at the March event in 2020. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing the cancellation of the event for three years. ABCA was pleased to re-extend the invitation, to Eco Exeter, in 2024, to present, and “I’m very grateful they’ve made the time to come and speak to us tonight.”

Marissa Vaughan is Chair of the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) Board of Directors. She said the ABCA was honoured to welcome the Eco Exeter students. “These young people are truly inspiring and they show the promise of the next generation of watershed stewards,” she said.

The students’ presentation was part of Ausable Bayfield Conservation’s annual Partner Appreciation Evening. ABCA presented the Conservationist of the Year Award at the event as well as Board and Staff years of service awards. To learn more visit the conservation award web page.

PHOTO: Eco Exeter students, from South Huron District High School (SHDHS), presented, on the topic of Away from pollution, towards solutions: Keeping plastics and other contaminants out of our water, at Ausable Bayfield Conservation's Partner Appreciation Evening, at Ironwood Golf Club, on March 21, 2024. Shown in photo, from left to right, are: SHDHS teacher Amanda Keller; and students: Sophia Buckman; Aaron Edwards; Bria McCann; Ryan Marsh, Eco Exeter president; and Liam Buckman, Eco Exeter Vice-President. To thank Eco Exeter for having presented, Ausable Bayfield Conservation presented the students with a Native Species Plant Guide and a certificate announcing that 25 trees will be planted, through Carbon Footprints to Forests, in recognition of their presentation. Those trees, over their lifetimes, can capture 8.13 tonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) per year.

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