This 8th grader is fighting to make California schools plastic-free

by Perry Wheeler

March 10, 2020

Jinali has a plan to move her school away from single-use plastics… at the age of 13! But she’s not stopping there — she’s fighting to make reusables the norm at schools throughout California.

A couple of weeks ago, Greenpeace received an email from an 8th-grade student named Jinali who started her email with this: 

I have a dream. A dream that I want to live every day for the rest of my life and generations to come, that this beautiful blue planet, which gives me fresh air to breathe, green grass to lie upon, clean water to drink, and a beautiful ocean to swim in remains as is. I have seen how plastic waste is now clouding my dream and I feel the days are numbered. I must do something, I am 13 years old, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a responsibility to the Mother Earth. My future and the future of the next generations depend on me to do something. So together with the support of my family and my school, I have a goal.

We receive a lot of emails from folks who are passionate about ending plastic pollution, but this one stood out to me.

Jinali and the stainless steel utensil kits she will be distributing in her school.

Jinali had spearheaded a plan to move her school away from single-use plastics and toward reusables… at the age of 13. But she’s not stopping there. She’s fighting to make reusable utensils and straws the norm at schools throughout California. Jinali has enlisted Caroline Menjivar, the East Valley Area Representative for the Mayor, to support her efforts and attend the distribution of these reusables at her school on March 10th. 

Jinali reached out for our help with getting the word out — to urge other schools to take action on single-use plastic — so that’s what we are doing. Just a few weeks ago, Greenpeace launched a plastic-free toolkit for teachers and schools to use in combating the plastic pollution crisis. We hope it helps you or someone you know to take action at schools across the country. 

Below, we talk with Jinali about her vision for a plastic-free future. We hope you are as inspired as we were! 

Hi Jinali, thank you so much for showing leadership on plastics. What made you care so much about tackling plastic pollution? 

Jinali: Thank you for appreciating what I am trying to do. I get to hear and see every day from the internet and media how much plastic has become a problem. I see at schools how much single-use plastics are used. A simple calculation showed there are roughly 800,000 students in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) alone, and if 1/4th of them use one plastic utensil a day that is 200,000 plastic utensils a day, 4 million a month, and 48 million a year. That is big enough to fill 33 school rooms with waste per year. This made me think about what I can do to stop this.

Can you describe what you have done to help get your school to stop using single-use plastics? 

J: I am trying to give every student a stainless steel utensil kit with a straw, a straw cleaner, a spoon, and a fork to bring to school and back. I have been successful in getting the support of my school to introduce a reward system for those who bring them to school. I also have cases engraved that read, “I CREATE MY GREEN FUTURE.”  This is to promote and build a culture of reuse and make us, ‘the students,’ responsible for it.

What are the next steps at your school to get rid of single-use plastics? 

J: I have raised enough funds to be able to give these stainless steel utensil kits to middle school and high school students by selling Valentine’s Day cards to friends and family and by doing small chores. With the money collected, we ordered these utensils and we are going to distribute them on March 10th.

An assortment of the Valentine’s Day cards Jinali made to help fund this project.

Do other students and teachers seem excited about going plastic-free? 

J: My teachers were excited and they gave their full support, my friends too. I hope the whole school will support this and other schools as well. I think most will embrace the idea, some may not, but that’s ok.

It sounds like the mayor is excited about your work too. What have you heard from the mayor or others about your effort? 

J: I wrote to the Mayor and the Mayor’s representative, Caroline Menjivar, has volunteered to participate on the day of the distribution at school. She is also getting me in touch with the LAUSD and other community centers to help me promote the concept in other schools. 

What would you say to people who think this plastic pollution crisis is too big for any one person to make a difference? 

J: If everyone waited thinking like that, nothing would ever happen. We have to start somewhere no matter how small the effort is.

Do you want to see other schools go plastic-free as well? 

J: Yes, of course, that is the main idea! My dream is for all schools to say, “NO TO ONE TIME USE OF PLASTICS.”

You are an inspiration to others to make a difference. What do you plan to do next to help stop single-use plastics?  

Jinali’s utensil kits, containing a stainless steel straw, straw cleaner, spoon, and fork. She chose the wording on the case to help build a culture of reuse and to make the students responsible for upholding it.

J: I want to get a representative from every school to come forward with me to introduce this concept in every school. I also want to build awareness with organizations such as yours to help spread the importance and the word on how they can do it in their schools. I also want the high plastic footprint companies to pledge their loyalty to this project as a giving back for the harm they do with their business models.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers of this blog? 

J: Being plastic-free isn’t really very difficult. It takes a bit of interest and effort. I want everyone to start trying even in the smallest way possible. It’s not that difficult and it has to be done if we want a good environment for us in the future.

To learn more about Greenpeace’s plastic-free toolkit and the ways you can take action in your community, please click here.

Perry Wheeler

By Perry Wheeler

Perry Wheeler is a senior communications specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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