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Skyline student takes a hard look at plastic bottles

Sammamish Review of Sammamish, Washington

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Skyline junior Macey Knecht doesn't consider herself a "tree-hugger," she said.

But during a curiosity-driven after-school "dumpster-diving" session, it hit her just how much plastic the approximately 1,800 students at her school use and throw away-as much as 1,000 bottles-every single day.

"Skyline High School tries to give the image we're environmentally friendly, but..." Knecht said. "When you see something like this, it changes your perspective of the school."

She had gone through the school's recycling bins and noticed that most of the bottles were thrown in the trash instead of with the plastic bags.

"Every single water bottle hit me that much more," she said. "There was a ton of Gatorade bottles. But there were definitely more water bottles."

Knecht recently finished a weeklong project to highlight Skyline's plastic consumption and waste. It began out of her need to run a public relations campaign for her IB Business and Finance class and the DECA marketing project. But it turned into a full-fledged display in the center of the school's two-story student commons.

She and a few classmates strung hundreds of plastic bottles and bags across the atrium to remind students every day at lunch and during passing period how much they throw away each day. Knecht said she wasn't sure how students would take it, as they like to buy their sports drinks and such and not carry them in a reusable bottle. But about 26 percent of the 600 students polled afterward said the event caused them to start carrying a reusable bottle to school. "Each day of her campaign I had several students approach me and ask how they could participate or support her," said B.J. Sherman, Knecht's DECA project advisor, "which is not only a testament to our caliber of learner at Skyline, but to Macey's influence."

About 39 percent of the students polled said they still buy flavored drinks, but now carry a reusable bottle for water.

Sherman noted the visual impact the strung bottles and bags had at school.

"When students entered the commons that first morning they were in awe of the visual display that consumed the entire facility which punctuated the point that we are drowning in plastic," he said.

Speaking to the general mindset of high school students, Knecht reasoned that the school wastes so much plastic simply because teenagers don't want to refill a container-it's easier to buy it over and over in a bottle.

"It's too difficult to refill a water bottle," she said.

It was more than just telling people about a problem in the world.

As part of her efforts, Knecht offered incentives to those who brought reusable water bottles to school, she said.

She and friends also repur-posed old posters to advertise the cause.

"We want to make a difference, too," Knecht said.

Knecht got the idea for the project after watching the trailer video for "Bag It," a movie that investigates the effects of the world's dependence on plastic.

Although it's difficult to gauge the student body's true reception of the plastic awareness week for a while, Knecht said it will only grow as some students take a hold of the cause and school leaders help incorporate it with the existing efforts to reduce paper consumption.

"There has been a major difference," Knecht said. "It's just going to keep going on by word of mouth."

Original Publication Date: January 18, 2012

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