Summerside students 'bothered' by waste spearhead reusable dishware initiative

A group of high school students in Summerside, P.E.I., has launched a new initiative to curb single-use plastics. 

In February, reusable plates, cups and cutlery started being used for meals at Three Oaks Senior High School — to replace the plastic and Styrofoam that had been in use. 

"It feels really good to be part of something that's helping the environment," said Grade 12 student Catherine Demchuk, one of the students who came up with the idea last fall.

Fellow student Helene Moase  — also part of the group behind the initiative — said she didn't realize how much waste the school was generating until she started helping with the school's breakfast program. 

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"Every morning after I would clean up I would see the amount of plastic we throw out," said Moase. 

"It really bothered me and I thought, 'Well, we could be doing something to help reduce this.'"

'Far less waste'

The group of students did some research at the school and found that approximately 51,000 pieces of Styrofoam or plastic would be used there in the course of three years. They approached the administration with the idea of purchasing reusable items instead, and say there was immediate support. 

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"As a cost-effective measure I think we're going to see it's going to pay for itself quite quickly," said David Chisholm, current acting vice-principal at Three Oaks.

"Not to mention the garbage — we have far less waste now than we had even a month ago."

Students who eat food from the school are now asked to scrape any remaining organic material into a green bin, and put the dishes away in designated containers.

Volunteers then come and bring those containers back to the kitchen, and run those dishes through an industrial dishwasher that was installed during a recent renovation at the school.

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Officials with the school said the purchase of the plates, bowls, cups and cutlery cost about $2,000 — a small price to pay to support students who are working to make positive changes in their community. 

"We see it on a daily basis," said Chisholm. "It's just good that, you know, people outside of this building see the good things that kids are doing."

He said since the initiative launched, more students have come forward offering to help with dish cleanup.

The students say next, they'd like to tackle plastic coffee cup lids, and disposable straws.

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They hope the success of this initiative will inspire other young people to take small steps to better support the environment.

"I feel like a lot of people think they don't make a difference," Demchuk said.

"But it's all the little changes together that make a big effect. So if you feel like you don't do anything, just know that there's other people there doing the same thing and it will make a difference."

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