Four members of Mount Airy High School’s Interact Club reported back to Mount Airy Rotary on their recent adventures visiting the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The students, Gilleyn Bunting, Olivia Wilson, Lindley Williams and Owen Perkins, were chosen for the trip based on speeches they wrote on the subject of clean water and sanitation, which is Goal #6 of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. They toured the General Assembly hall, discussed the UN’s sustainability goals and peace goals, and sat in on a meeting.
The trip was partially funded by the American Freedom Association and Mount Airy Rotary Club, according to Carol Burke, American Freedom Association treasurer and Rotary member. The students were part of a larger 16-member delegation from Rotary District 7690, of which the Mount Airy organization is a part.
The students went old school at the meeting, speaking directly to the audience after a planned PowerPoint presentation met with technical snags.
“We had tons of fun on the trip,” said Owen Perkins, recounting the student’s 12-hour Amtrak train ride, their hotel stay, tour of Battery Park, the Statue of Liberty and the rebuilt World Trade Center complex.
“We also learned to negotiate with street vendors for sunglasses and pocketbooks,” added Perkins.
He discussed with the group some of what he had learned as to what the United Nations can do to thwart the rising threat of plastics in the ocean.
Perkins said so much plastic has made it into the ocean that 2.5 percent of the Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest ocean, has become a huge trash heap of plastic. Dubbed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” it is located between California and China.
Perkins cited one company which has begun a project to remove discarded plastics from the ocean to create re-usable water bottles.
Another project, called “The Great Ocean Clean-up,” is using buoys and conveyors to scoop plastic out of the ocean and then compress it, converting it into building blocks. He cited this as an example of an entrepreneurial solution by a start-up company.
Lyndley Williams said that 50 percent of aquatic life have ingested some plastic, and many have died as a result. She discussed the Kyoto Protocol, taxes on plastic straws, and a route to metal containers as options for a solution. She said that just the plastic litter that has already accumulated in the oceans would take billions of years to break down.
Olivia Wilson told a story of a pilot whale who died recently and had 17 pounds of plastic bags and bottles in his stomach.
Gilleyn Bunting was not able to talk due to wisdom teeth having been removed earlier, so her associates took over for her.
When the floor was opened to questions, Michael Barnes asked the students about the life cycle of plastics from consumer to ocean, or “how does plastic get into the ocean?”
Litter was the primary answer. Storm drains bring plastic to rivers and streams, humans litter directly into waterways from greenways and at outdoor festivals and gatherings.
Barnes asked if dumping from ocean liners was a problem, and Wilson replied that was one thing that had been brought under control.
Dick Johnson told of an experience he had in Cocos Island, Costa Rica, where bottles from Peru had “floated up there.” He also said he had seen water in Fiji covered in plastic, and “it stunk like hell.”
“It’s not too pleasant down there,” Johnson concluded.
Marion Goldwasser asked, “Maybe we get rid of plastics?”
“That’s a good idea,” said Perkins.
Michael Barnes gave three final suggestions as to how everyone can help keep plastic out of oceans, saying as an earth science teacher, he was passionate on the subject. “One, recycle. Two, take the cap off of water bottles if you must use a plastic water bottle. That way it doesn’t rise up in the landfill and make its way to the ocean. And three, cut up plastic six-pack holders. They might still wind up in the ocean, but at least bottle-nose dolphins won’t get their mouth caught in them and die.
As Owen Perkins was blithely quoting to the Rotary members Twitter sources for his comments, he paused, looked at his audience and said, “Oh, most of you still read newspapers,” as he seemed to suddenly realize the source of news for his audience.
The audience looked at the newspaper reporter present, a living symbol of the past, as he furiously scribbled notes on a legal pad with a pen, much as it’s been done for hundreds of years, and the Rotarians then burst into raucous laughter at the technological divide between their own generations and their young guests.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.