Imagine this:you and your family are trying to enjoy your day at Jordan Creek in Allentown. You are playing and fishing in the creek when suddenly a plastic water bottle floats by you, then another, then a styrofoam take-out container. As you sit and watch the water, plastic continues to float right by you. A few years ago, this was the reality of Jordan Creek, reportedly one of the most polluted waterways in the Delaware River watershed at the time. Many of the native organisms of Jordan Creek were endangered by the plastic pollution. New regulations and education are needed to fix this decades-long problem.
To start going in the right direction, we need to teach our children from a young age how to protect our environment and the flora and fauna living in it. I have always been fascinated by the environment; whenever someone would come to talk about the environment at my elementary school, I was entranced. At fifteen, I became the youngest docent in the Lehigh Valley Zoo’s history, and I fell in love with teaching kids to care for the environment as I had once learned. Through the Zoo’s #KNOWplastics campaign, guests are invited to participate in fun games and activities to teach them how to reduce use of single-use plastics. I think we should implement similar environmental education programs in schools throughout in the Lehigh Valley. If we teach young children how to recycle and care for the environment properly, they will in turn teach their families and future generations.
After all, teaching students how to better preserve their environment will benefit them just as much as learning that “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell,” or how to find the hypotenuse of a right triangle using the Pythagorean Theorem. Sustainability classes should be taught in the third, seventh, and tenth grades in all Lehigh Valley schools, with a “refresher course” each year. Sustainability classes should replace Sophomore Seminar in 10th grade at Liberty and Freedom High Schools. An increased emphasis on educating students on how to care for their environment properly would improve the lives of everyone in the Lehigh Valley. Increased sustainability brings increased happiness and a greater sense of community. Increased sustainability education would lead to more community gardens, increased person-to-person conversations, and more active political involvement.
Education about the environment will have an even greater impact if we hold corporations in the area responsible for their contribution to the problem. Most pressingly, Coca-Cola park, home of the Iron Pigs, needs to make large changes to support sustainability. The Coca-Cola Company was the largest producer of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions globally in 2021, as well as the largest plastic polluter of any company. Break Free From Plastic, an organization of volunteers with members in 45 countries, reported finding nearly 20,000 Coca-Cola-branded products during global beach clean-ups, far more plastic than the next two polluters, PepsiCo and Unilever, combined. The company has failed its responsibility to reduce pollution. Increased environmental education in the area could help our students learn how to handle the waste produced by these corporations.
There are many things we need to do to lessen the amount of pollution in our valley. I propose public “No-Waste Weekends” every few months to celebrate going green. These celebrations would include local musicians, food, activities, and environmental education. A large turnout could result in many more people not using their cars and learning how not to pollute and how to help our environment in the future. This could inspire other cities to try to do the same so that many people know how to recycle more and pollute less.
Similarly, “Sustainability Days” should be taught in our local schools. This would teach students how to protect our environment , including little things they could do to help. Most of us have heard the call to “reduce, reuse, recycle”—but many people do not separate their recyclables as they should, partly because separating the different types of materials can be confusing. According to recent studies, 91% of plastics are not recycled as they should be. Sustainability Days could teach kids how and what to compost and recycle more effectively.
As Jane Goodall, world-renowned zoologist claims, “There is still so much in the world worth fighting for. So much that is beautiful, so many wonderful people working to reverse the harm, to help alleviate the suffering. And so many young people dedicated to making this a better world. All conspiring to inspire us and to give us hope that it is not too late to turn things around, if we all do our part.” Our responsibility is to educate the next generation and provide them with the knowledge and tools so they can do their part to continue the fight.
Thomas Fortsch is a rising Senior at Liberty High School.