Solana Ranch student advocates to get rid of single-use plastic at school

Aaron D’Souza, a Solana Ranch fourth grader, with the Solana Beach School District superintendent and board members.
(Karen Billing)

Aaron D’Souza, a fourth-grade student at Solana Ranch Elementary School, made a pitch to the Solana Beach School District to get rid of single-use plastic at his school at the Jan. 16 board meeting. Aaron gave a short presentation and asked the district to reconsider the use of plastic utensils for student lunches and consider making a switch to wooden or metal utensils instead.

“Plastic is killing the sea animals and plastics are also ugly,” said Aaron, showing the board images of plastic waste and providing them with “disturbing” facts about plastic.

Aaron said 72 billion gallons of water are wasted per year from plastic production, 50,000 bottles are thrown away per minute and noted that it takes 500 years for plastic to degrade. He detailed his proposed solution to disintegrate PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic by using a plastic-eating bacteria called ideonella sakaiensis—Aaron learned about the bacteria through watching TED Talks online.

He showed the board his idea for a machine that would consume PET plastic using the bacteria; he hopes his next step is to be able to build a prototype with help from UC San Diego.

Aaron compared the costs between plastic, wood or metal utensils and said he hoped his research would help the board’s understanding. “I also hope to encourage students to bring lunch from home to bring their own metal utensils,” said Aaron.

Already this school year, advocacy by the Solana Ranch School student club the EnviroHawks has resulted in changes at their school. Last year, students asked the board to replace the plastic spork packets that were given out at lunch. The packets included a plastic spork, straw and a napkin in one plastic wrapper and as the EnviroHawks explained, students would take just one item and throw everything away.

Due to the EnviroHawks’ efforts, now all of the items are separate so students only take what they need and, as a result, the school has less waste.