by Nick Schippers (with Hans Schippers), Spring 2020

Growing up surfing on Washington’s remote and rugged coastlines, my brothers and I learned early on just how important our waters are. As avid surfers and watermen, our love for the oceans drives our desire to protect them so we can continue to enjoy their beauty. But our oceans are in trouble. The issue of plastic pollution is arguably the most visible ocean related issue, and hits home with us every time we leave the water and spot plastic debris on the beach.

Since August of 2018 my younger brother Hans and I have been visiting schools to discuss the issue of plastic pollution. We have been travelling in an old school bus that we converted to be our mobile education station and living quarters. The bus is a mid-sized 1998 blue bird with an old Chevrolet engine and looks like a square spaceship from the ’70s. Named “SKOOLIE”, the bus is bright blue and is an absolute hit among students when we pull into school parking lots.

Our choice to move into the cramped living quarters of a short bus did not happen overnight. Having both pursued environmental degrees in college, Hans and I wanted to use the skills we honed in the classroom to have direct impact in local communities. After leaving school and both working more typical 9 to 5 jobs, we realized that more needed to be done in order to see the change we knew needed to take place. This, in combination with our passion for the oceans, is what led us to the journey we have been on over the last year and a half.

Standing in front of a gymnasium filled with 300+ students can be an intimidating thing, but it is exactly where we wanted to be. One of the first questions we ask the students is, “Why do you think we are here, why are we talking about this issue to begin with?” The answers in the form of random shouts from throughout the gymnasium come in: “Because you guys love plastic!” “Because you guys are homeless and just want to surf.” And always the question, “How tall are you two?!” We are happy to divulge our height, but we are really there to teach these students why it is important to care for the place they live, the place they call home.

Plastic pollution is unique among many environmental issues in that it is something people can see on a daily basis. If you walk down the street in your neighborhood you will likely see a cigarette butt, a straw, or a candy bar wrapper. The items we see often go unaddressed; most people typically don’t take time to pick them up. But changing this exact perception is what can make the difference for students. As we grow up most of us are told to clean our rooms, or to take care of our belongings. We are taught by teachers, parents, grandparents, etc. that we need to take care of what we use. This teaching is often lost when it comes to thinking about stuff that isn’t ours, or in our house.

In addition, distractions of social media, and the continual bombardment of information that students face from outside sources constantly pull us away from looking at what is right in front of us. Often, we hear from students that they saw a turtle with a straw wedged in its nose on Instagram or that they have seen the issue of plastic pollution because a TikTok video showed them. These social media platforms, however, fail to make a direct connection to the problem of plastic pollution in a student’s own community and to their own behavior. The images on social media often fail to bring to light solutions to the problem that will impact a student’s life directly. This constant diversion from one’s own community and one’s own actions is what we are teaching them to change.

Caring for and taking pride in the community we call home through simple actions like picking up waste on the ground rather than framing that waste as “someone else’s” problem forces us to take accountability for the place we live. Stepping out of the habitual cycle we have developed to escape reality through social media makes us become more present, and at the end of the day, it leaves us with a sense of fulfillment that cannot be acquired through a social networking platform. Plastic pollution for us has become a tool to bring students back to the present and give them a way to take direct action on an environmental issue right from their own doorstep.

Research has shown that the benefit of picking up trash can not only inspire and encourage others to do the same, but it can engage a positive feedback cycle in our psychology. We receive dopamine hits from committing an action that benefits our home and mother earth. This means that each small action we take whether attending a local clean up, opting for reusable dishware, or even just skipping that plastic coffee cup makes us feel happier. Because we are such creatures of community, our actions literally impact the lives of those around us. In being part of the solution, we open the door for others to do the same.

The actions of one student, or small group of students, can jumpstart an entire school taking action and can even influence the entire surrounding community. During our travels teaching last year we saw this happen time and time again. For example, students at Kingston High School convinced their district to ban single use lunch trays school wide after we opened a more in-depth discussion with the environmental club. In Southern Oregon we visited a small high school, and after our visit two students convinced the administration to stop using single use utensils. Doing the math with them, we found their school saved over 42,000 utensil sets from landfill each year. Those students also went on to host community talks about the plastic pollution problem and are working with local businesses to reduce the amount of single use plastics in their community.

When we finish our discussions with students, we want to leave them feeling motivated to act. We want them to understand the reality of the problem, but not let the overwhelming nature of the reality cripple them from making a change in their own lives. To do this we always conclude our talks with open discussion and some key takeaways that focus on positive messaging and action.

For us it is imperative that we let students understand that no individual is perfect. One change is a great place for anyone to start, and the easiest one for us all is typically that of a reusable water bottle. When we ask students to raise their hand if they own a reusable water bottle we typically see about 80-90% of the class raise their hands. If we follow that question up with asking if they bring the reusable bottle to school with them every day, the numbers drop quickly to around 50% or less. Pointing out this discrepancy to students shows them just how simple it is to make a difference. We have them think about just their school or class. Imagine how much of a difference it makes if 500 high schoolers all make one change for a whole school year… the numbers add up quickly!

It’s only one plastic fork… said 8 billion people.

Photo by John F. Williams

Plastic pollution provides an extremely effective way to discuss an environmental issue because it is omnipresent. Everyone uses plastic therefore everyone is part of the problem. If we start with this then we can also all be a part of the solution. It is one of the few environmental issues that can transcend political boundaries especially when discussing with students.

The solutions are simple. All we have to do is act.

Nick Bio:
A “double dawg” at heart. I have a BA in Environmental Studies and an MPA in Environmental Policy from the University of Washington. As a lifelong surfer and advocate for the oceans, I have worked with both the Surfrider Foundation and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii to try to change perception surrounding our use of plastic. The use of plastics is one small but tangible way to educate and work with k-12 students on environmental issues. Our work will provide a basis for kids down the west coast to begin thinking about sustainability and the environment in a way that is both interactive and effective. To continue working under Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and push for change and action at a local level is an incredible privilege and I cannot wait to embark on this journey.

Hans Bio:
As a recent graduate from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, my passion for the ocean continues to motivate me in seeking environmental change. Graduating with a BA in Environmental focused Economics and Political Science, I was fortunate to receive a job selling solar energy. However, I still found myself compelled to create a brighter future for our oceans. Motivated by the mission of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and my recent internship with them during undergrad, I decided to institute the real change that is needed to save the world’s greatest playground: the oceans.

Table of Contents, Issue #7, Spring 2020

Plastics & Our Salish Sea

Plastics & Our Salish Sea

by Alison Ahlgrim, Spring 2020Photo by John F. WilliamsPhoto by John F. Williamsby Alison Ahlgrim, Spring 2020  Take a walk along a beach anywhere along the Salish Sea, and you are likely to see all kinds of plastic waste – bottle caps, bags, toys, Styrofoam, bottles,...

Art and Plastics

Art and Plastics

by Karen Hackenberg, Spring 2020Painting by Karen HackenbergPainting by Karen Hackenbergby Karen Hackenberg, Spring 2020  Between Scylla and Charybdis, oil on linen, 28"x35", 2019, by Karen Hackenberg.My painting Between Scylla and Charybdis, can be seen as a metaphor...



by Julie Masura, Spring 2020Photo by Julie MasuraPhoto by Julie Masuraby Julie Masura, Spring 2020  “What do you know about plastics?" "Absolutely nothing.” This was the beginning of microplastics research at the University of Washington Tacoma’s Center for Urban...



Poetry Spring 2020A Plastic Future Is Not Fantastic by Mahathi Mangipudi  Photo by John F. Williams      Small Things by Janet Knox We gift them tiny plastic things to sit on a shelf or play and break to signify like or caring or thinking of you then...

Kingdom of Plastics

Kingdom of Plastics

by Julie Jeanell Leung, Spring 2020Photo of Schel Chelb estuary by John F. WilliamsPhoto of Schel Chelb estuary by John F. Williamsby Julie Jeanell Leung, Spring 2020  Standing on the beach at the Schel Chelb Estuary, three days after the winter solstice in 2012, I...

Addressing the Plastic Problem

Addressing the Plastic Problem

by Heather Trim, Spring 2020Photo by John F. WilliamsPhoto by John F. Williamsby Heather Trim, Spring 2020  Plastic waste is an issue for Washingtonians because we are a coastal state, and we have remaining endangered species who are potentially being impacted by...

A New Hope for Plastics

A New Hope for Plastics

by Adelia Ritchie, Spring 2020Photo by John F. WilliamsPhoto by John F, Williamsby Adelia Ritchie, Spring 2020  If you’ve ever had to clear out those pesky cobwebs from every corner of your house, you know how ubiquitous and stubbornly persistent our house spiders can...




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