By Meg Reilly
What do environmental activists look like? Some might be surprised to learn that they look like three Whitby School 7th graders who are the founding members of Greenwich Bottles No More (GBNM). Anika Bhat, Saachi Bogavelli, and Kira Ferenc started this organization to ban single-use plastic water bottles in the Town of Greenwich. This is not a pipe-dream but a realistic goal. In Massachusetts, Concord, Martha’s Vineyard, and Cape Cod have all banned single-use bottles. Many municipal government agencies and universities around the world also have such a ban in place.
The roots of this local movement began during the last school year when the girls’ 6th grade IB Individuals and Societies class began the Environmental Justice unit. For their assessment, they were required to conduct in-depth research on an environmental issue and plan an action that could deliver measurable results. Kira, Anika, and Saachi had each researched matters related to plastic pollution: plastic water bottles, micro-plastics in the oceans, and the endangerment of sea turtles due to the digestion of plastics, respectively.
Their joint research is compelling. By mid-century, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, ton-for-ton. Most bottles are not recycled, so in addition to all the plastic that ends up in the sea, over 40 billion plastic water bottles wind up in US landfills each year; it takes 400 years for these bottles to biodegrade. There are also health risks to consider, as micro-plastics can appear in 93% of bottled water.
It became evident that the common denominator across all the projects was the negative impact of water bottles, and that together they could make a difference. Their research, combined with the fact that Greenwich has 32 miles of shoreline and four town beaches, led the girls to the decision to save their town from the effects of single-use bottles, and “Greenwich Bottles No More” was born.
Andrew Greene, Individuals and Societies teacher at Whitby, has been advising the girls from the beginning. “I normally prefer that students work independently on these action pieces,” remarked Mr. Greene. “They showed me their research and how the topics were interconnected. What persuaded me was their passion. They were determined to raise awareness and try to make a change. This is not typical of 6th graders!”
The first step for putting their plan into action started with a petition on Change.org, which quickly received over 800 signatures. Encouraged, the girls arranged to meet with Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei. He offered advice and suggested that they could move forward to make this a campaign issue for the first selectman candidates who would be on the November 2019 ballot.
Even though the school year was ending, their enthusiasm for the endeavor remained. The students arranged with Mr. Greene to make GBNM an elective class for the 2019 fall term. The purpose of the course is to educate and engage with the community-at-large –Whitby students, faculty and parents, student groups at other Greenwich schools, civic organizations and, most importantly, local government leaders. And they have been busy doing just that. Since the beginning of the school year, the group meets weekly to organize this collective action. Most recently, they attended a Greenwich Selectman debate along with GBNM group members Vasilisa Banks and Inaaya Jacobsen to learn where candidates stood on environmental issues and had the opportunity to speak with Jill Oberlander and Sandy Litvack.
Anika, Saachi, and Kira summarize it all by saying, “We are passionate about our cause and engaging in the political process. The impact of single-use bottles on the environment is a problem affecting our generation, and kids our age need to take a stand and make things happen.”