How one nine year old contributes to an initiative to ban plastic cutlery from school

‘The environment has feelings, too’

Toren Lee’s simple invention aids Camden-Rockport Elementary’s ChangeMakers
Tue, 05/07/2019 - 8:00am

    CAMDEN—With the human population pretty much on target to destroy the natural world and wipe out a million species by the next century with its waste, over-consumption and alteration of 75% of the globe’s land and 66% of its marine environments, it’s time to listen to what the kids have to say.

    Toren Lee, nine, a student Camden Rockport Elementary School, wrote a persuasive essay for school titled “The Environment Has Feelings, Too.”

    Proposing an incremental change in the way the school uses plastic cutlery, Lee and his fellow students, are mini activists in the school’s after-school program, ChangeMakers, which is taking donations of silverware to replace the cafeteria’s plastic cutlery.

    Toren said it bothered him to see all of the plastic straws, and single-use plastic dumped into the trash each day.

    “I just feel like it’s bad for the environment, and it’s going hurt a lot of sea animals,” Toren said, admitting he was bothered by a recent news article earlier this spring about a whale found dead in the Philippines with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach.

    He’s right to be alarmed.

    A report written by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a UN committee with 145 experts from 50 countries, illustrates that more than a third of all marine mammals are at risk of extinction due in part, to the massive amount of plastics that end up in the ocean.

    “Of all of the plastic in the world, only nine percent is recycled,12 percent is incinerated, and the rest of it is either thrown away in landfills, or the ocean,” said Toren, firing off an impressive amount of retained statistics.

    ChangeMakers estimated that 600 pieces of plastic utensils are used at their school for lunch each day, costing the school about $1,000 per year.

    Meanwhile, Toren, who comes from a sewing family, created a canvas pack that can carry cutlery from to and from home.

    “I tried to figure out a way to stop using plastic utensils, so we made these utensil bags,” he said.

    While he came up with the concept, his father sewed them, adding a logo to the pack to personalize it. He has made several for sale, as well.

    While Toren and his classmates have no control over adult consumption, such as shopping with plastic bags, they do have control over a simple thing: that with which they choose to eat their lunch.

    Toren said he did the math at ChangeMakers and it will take about $1,500 to upgrade the school’s kitchen to clean all the silverware as well as procure enough, adding that the donation page, started by educator Katie Urey, was getting closer to their goal.

    “We’re going to do posters and then make an iMovie about it,” he said.

    The money will also be used to put a large magnet in the cafeteria’s trash bin, so that accidentally thrown out utensils can be saved.

    Meanwhile, Toren isn’t just jumping on some environmental bandwagon; he’s truly disciplined to make these incremental changes himself and every day, remembers to bring his silverware home and often washes it himself before returning it to the pack for the next day.

    To make this daily change is easy enough for anybody—and it doesn’t have to be the “good” silverware from home. Places like GoodWill sell used silverware and Job Lots in Belfast and Rockland have bins of new cutlery one can buy by the piece.

    Kay Stephens can be reached at