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Park Slope Middle Schoolers Leading Charge in Anti-Plastic Bag Campaign

 Students from M.S. 51 are asking stores to sign pledges not to use plastic bags.
Park Slope Middle Schoolers Leading Charge in Anti-Plastic Bag Campaign
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PARK SLOPE — Most tweens — and adults for that matter — would probably consider attending a meeting of the Solid Waste Advisory Board a form of torture, but one local middle schooler left a session with the recycling group earlier this year beaming with excitement.

Ilana Cohen 12, is one of two M.S. 51 students who are leading the charge to reduce the use of plastic bags in New York. She and her classmate Alison Collard de Beaufort, also 12, have joined forces with a growing citywide campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags, through a ban, charge, or other measure.

The movement is expected to take off this summer when Park Slope City Councilman Brad Lander introduces legislation on the issue. "The good news is, it's something that's really possible to make a difference on," Lander said at a recent forum in Park Slope where environmentalists brainstormed action steps.

The group, led by lawyer Jennie Romer, who helped get a plastic bag ban passed in San Francisco, has gotten an early boost from Ilana and Alison, who both watched the anti-plastic bag documentary "Bag It" in science class, and attended forums about the issue led by Romer. Both girls are animal lovers and were attracted to the movement after they learned how plastic bag pollution harms marine life.

For the past several months, they've been collecting signatures from people vowing to shop with reusable bags instead of plastic bags, and Ilana has convinced several Park Slope stores to sign pledges to not use plastic bags.

At a science fair earlier this year, Alison donned a costume made of dozens of plastic bags and roamed the grounds to raise awareness. "It was like 200 hundred degrees outside, and inside the costume it was like 1,000 degrees," Alison said. "[But] I’m really committed to this problem so I don’t mind. It was worth it.”

Ilana even went with her teacher to a meeting of the Solid Waste Advisory Board — a level of commitment that surprised her teacher, Jody Reiss. "What seventh-grader goes with her teacher to the solid waste advisory board?," Reiss said. "As she was walking away, I heard her say to her dad ‘That was so great, that was so interesting.’”

Ilana says she'll continue gathering pledges and signatures over the summer, when she's not at theater camp. "To me plastic bags just seem like such a  big part of global pollution," Ilana said. "They're everywhere, especially in New York City. When you see them and know the facts, it’s kind of hard not to be involved."

Reiss, who is M.S. 51's sustainability coordinator, says she tries to tell all of her students they can make a difference, and Ilana and Alison have more than taken that idea to heart.

"I tell the kids, we have a lot of big problems in the world, we’re running out of fossil fuels, we’re trashing the earth, there's so much waste, but there’s something each one of them could do," Reiss aid. "[Ilana and Alison] are both really passionate about it. They’re really willing to do a lot more."