Bayview Elementary Community Ed Laketown Elementary Southview Elementary

Reprinted with permission from the Waconia Patriot

By Al Lohman

A group of local boys has seen lots of plastics washing up on the shores of Lake Waconia and they want to do something about it.

As a LEGO League project, the fifth- and sixth-graders have launched a campaign to get rid of single-use plastics in restaurants in Waconia and raise awareness about plastic pollution in local waters, the ocean and on land.

LEGO League, offered through District 110 Community Education, is an opportunity for young people to come together to innovate and solve problems. It introduces a scientific and real-world challenge for teams to focus on and research. Also, a robotics competition that involves designing and programming robots to complete tasks. The students work out a solution to a problem theme that changes every year and then meet for regional, national and international tournaments to compete, share their knowledge, compare ideas, and display their robots.

The boys chose plastic straws as their community issue because plastics pollution has become a big environmental concern, notes team leader Mike Tibbetts. Because of rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products, much of the planet is swimming in discarded plastic, which is harming animal and possibly human health, the boys learned in their research.

Marine life and land animals can ingest plastics thinking they are food, the boys point out, which can entangle them, clog their stomachs and poison them with toxics.

Meanwhile, plastic toxins in dumps and from litter can seep into the groundwater, which people drink every day, and plastics release an incredible amount of toxins into the air if they’re burned.

We produce roughly 300 million tons of plastic each year, according to a fact sheet the boys produced, and more than 90 percent of the plastics we use end up in landfills, lakes, rivers and the ocean.

In terms of straws, the LEGO team, which calls itself The Big Brains, note that most plastic straws can’t even be recycled and that one single-use straw takes 500 years to decompose.

As part of their project, the boys went door-to-door to local restaurants sharing that and additional information, and encouraging restaurant owners to find alternatives – reusable straws, biodegradable and compostable straws, or no straws altogether.

The group convinced Greg James at Iron Tap to be part of a pilot to make the switch, and he has been happy with the results, the boys report. He is buying 50 percent fewer straws. Other restaurants are exploring straw alternatives, or considering the idea.

Next, the boys will share their information with judges at a LEGO League regional competition in December, which will be an opportunity to broaden their campaign on a wider scale.