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Fed-up students demand change after dealing with daily health concerns in school cafeteria: 'We have to make these and many other changes'

"It's heartening to see young people taking a leadership role in tackling this critical issue."

"It's heartening to see young people taking a leadership role in tackling this critical issue."

Photo Credit: iStock

A group of students are seeing their efforts pay off after advocating for changes to their schools to benefit both their health and the environment. 

In November, Newsday reported that schools in the Port Washington district in New York have begun phasing out certain plastic products at the request of middle schoolers and high schoolers who are involved with the nonprofit Transition Town Port Washington.

"We want to remove plastics from our school because they never actually fully decompose … so it's very bad for our health," Paul D. Schreiber High School ninth grader Leila Kahi said at an October meeting, according to the news outlet

The district has ditched single-use plastic water bottles in favor of cans, eliminated the practice of wrapping cookies and fruit in plastic, and switched from packets to reusable pump and squeeze bottle dispensers for ketchup.  

"We have to make these and many other changes to ensure that our children have a healthy and viable future," added Margaret Galbraith, the president of Transition Town Port Washington, which partnered with student leaders to bring a plastic-free lunch day to the district in the fall.

Food containers, pet toys, cosmetic packaging, and plastic cutlery are among other everyday items made from the material, but most plastics are produced from dirty energy like gasoline and motor oil, two highly polluting fuels

The chemicals in plastic have also been linked to a number of health issues, including dementia, kidney and heart diseases, and cancer. One study estimates that the average person consumes between 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles each year. 

It's unclear if Port Washington schools have eliminated any more plastic products, but it appears many in the community are committed to working toward a healthier future with small, actionable steps to reduce plastic pollution, including by participating in Plastic Free July. Local stores and restaurants took part in the event last year. 

For Earth Day in April, high schoolers and middle schoolers also presented their case to reduce single-use plastics at an event attended by elementary school students, according to The Island 360

"The students' presentations were both informative and inspiring," Dr. Ira Pernick, Port Washington's administrator for curriculum, instruction, and assessment, told the news organization. "It's heartening to see young people taking a leadership role in tackling this critical issue."

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