Local Government and Politics, News

Girls Inc. and Northeastern University look to bag plastic

Beach Sisters from Girls Inc. hope to eliminate plastic bags from Lynn. From left, Jenny Ly, Lisaury De Jesus, Indy Rodriguez, Louise Silva, and Lia Funicella. (Spenser Hasak)

Paper or plastic?

If a group of high school girls get their way, it might not be a choice in Lynn much longer.

The teens, armed with a PowerPoint presentation on the evils of plastic, are lobbying the City Council to join more than five dozen Bay State communities, including Salem, who have banned plastic bags.

“The idea came about because we see lots of plastic bags scattered around the city among the litter and wanted to make a difference,” said Jarivel Castro, a 15-year-old sophomore at KIPP Academy Charter School. “We figured banning plastic bags would go along way to cleaning up Lynn.”

Castro was one of an original six girls in an initiative by the Beach Sisters, a partnership between Northeastern University Marine Science Center and Girls Inc. The program’s mission is to  promote protecting the environment through leadership training and hands-on learning. These youthful peer leaders have become educators and environmental stewards through the planning and implementation of community action projects.

Lia Funicella, 18, a senior at Lynn English High School, said the group’s research included interviewing Salem lawmakers who implemented the ban in January, talking with state Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) and City Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre. They have a planned meeting with state Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) and have requested a session with Mayor Thomas M. McGee, she said.

In addition, the group started a petition to get signatures from residents who support the ban.

“We set up a table at the Lynn Museum for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service teaching recycling and got 300 signatures,” Funicella said. “A few people declined to sign saying they’ve used plastic bags their whole life and asked how they could just randomly stop.”

Still, she said, since then, the teens have gathered more than 500 signatures.

Louise Silva, a 16-year-old junior at Lynn Classical High School, said plastic bags harm animals and the environment.

Jenny Ly, 15, a freshman at Lynn English High School, said there will be opposition from families who depend on plastic bags to line small trash cans, clean up after their dog, and a variety of other uses. But she said the benefits of banning plastic outweigh the inconvenience.

“It’s better for the environment to have paper,” she said.

For the last six years, Ehrlich has championed legislation on Beacon Hill to ban plastic bags statewide. Her measure would require merchants to use paper for customers who don’t bring their own bags.  

“Our goal is to reduce the nuisance and pollution of plastic waste in our environment,” she said. “We see plastic bags carried up into trees, clog city drains and hurt marine life, which is a great concern along our coast.”

On why her bill has failed to pass the Legislature, she said statewide change takes time.

“But keep in mind that grassroots efforts have led to 64 communities, including Boston, to step up and ban plastic bags,” Ehrlich said.

Deb Ansourlian, Girls Inc.’s  executive director, said the project

is teaching the teens valuable lessons they will take with them as they become adults.

“The girls saw a need in the city and are doing the homework to find a solution,” she said. “They are building leadership skills, learning to communicate effectively, developing presentation skills, and discovering their voice.”

Carole McCauley, outreach program coordinator at the Northeastern University Marine Science Center, said the girls are not only about the environment, they are developing tools to protect it.

“It’s not enough to teach about the environment,” she said. “The key is to understand where power lies, how decisions get made and how they can make a difference.”

Crighton said he’s an enthusiastic supporter of the ban.

“If you walk down any street in Lynn, you’ll find plastic bags,” he said. “On the environment side, it takes forever for plastic to deteriorate.”  

LaPierre, who watched the girls’ presentation, said he supports the effort.

“It’s worthwhile,” he said. “Other North Shore communities have banned plastic bags or are considering it, so we have to keep an open mind about doing anything that will improve our environment and reduce waste and litter.”

But not everyone is on board.

McGee said he plans to review the proposal and determine what’s best for Lynn.

City Council President Darren Cyr said he has not made up his mind yet and has not see the Beach Sisters’ presentation.

“I know lots of people recycle the plastic bags for a variety of uses,” he said. “We will have to see.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo did not respond to a request for comment.

Jon Hurst, president of Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said his members are opposed to the ban because it’s anti-consumer and anti-choice.

He said the plastic bag ban has been a nightmare because each city or town appears to be making its own rules.

“We don’t like dealing with this crazy quilt of regulations in 351 cities and towns, that’s not how this is supposed to work, it’s not good for anyone,” he said.

Still, he said, he is not enthusiastic for a statewide ban either.

“It’s a solution looking for a problem,” he said.

Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

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