My name is Tim Stephenson. I teach science in the Vancouver area. I have started a strong plastic pollution awareness program at my school.

There is clearly an issue that is trending all over the world…plastic pollution.  Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver just this year is now banning plastic straws, putting a fee on plastic bags and ramping up the recycling of single use plastics.  The adage that by 2050, plastic in the oceans will outnumber the fish is as commonly heard an expression as ever.

So the word is getting out and it is in my school as well.  I’m a teacher in Walnut Grove Secondary School in Langley, BC.  It’s become my mission (or at times I feel it’s more like my burden), to promote the awareness and education around all things environmental.  In the last 3 years, I’ve added solar powered lights to my classroom, made it my business to encourage to teachers to power down their lights and computers, helped organize Green conferences with students and even bought an electric car!  I’ve given a TED talk on the topic, and any chance I get I will bring it up in class and weave into my lessons.

So this is why I got a hold of a copy of the film” A Plastic Ocean”.  I LOVE the ocean and I HATE what the anthropocene era is doing to it.  And the message in this film left students aghast at what they saw.  It really had an impact as they confessed to having no idea the plastic pollution problem was so big!

I operate under this notion, that the average age of the Apollo 11 ground crew was 28.  It was 12 years earlier when these same people were 16 and in grade 11, that a new and robust education push was spurred on by the launching of Sputnik.   That tells me that education works and can be highly influential.  If it can put a man on the Moon, then surely it can move students towards a new lifestyle that doesn’t harm the Earth.

With regard to plastic pollution, I find that we are already a well-trained society to put rigid plastics in the recycle bin (the blue one), and refundables back to the Return-It centres.  But it’s those pesky bags that we get at the grocery store that remain a problem.  You know that ones with a 5 minute usage and a 1000 year life span?  Ya, well it’s pretty darn easy to, without thinking, toss them in the garbage.  But when we throw them away, we have to realize there is no ”away”.  Well, actually there is…it’s the ocean.

And these bags won’t break down.  It’s quite the opposite…the break up, into thousands of tiny pieces that will go into the oceans, mimicking food supply for marine creatures and more frighteningly, mimicking hormones that affect reproduction!  Entanglements and ingestions of bags also leave us with horrible images of washed up whales and strangled sea turtles.

So we wanted to be part of the solution here at WGSS and what we did was figure out a way to collect these non-refundable bags that were otherwise heading to the landfill and oceans, and turn them into a product with purpose and lasting value.

Let me introduce you to the Gator Block!

Each brick is made from 40 plastic bags.  And of course, once you have a brick, what is there that you can’t build?  I’m seeing the best use coming in the form of garden decor, lining walkways, benches.  Or whatever you can imagine.  And of course the melted plastic will take the shape of any mould you put it in so there is no limit to what it could become.

We plan to do some structural analysis and chemical assay.  These bricks are so solid, you can hit them with a hammer and they don’t dent.  They are buoyant in a way similar to an ice cube, and they handled the heat of a dishwasher.  You can cut them with a chop saw and they won’t burn or de-shape due to friction from the blade.  As a chemistry teacher, I am very intrigued by the properties of this product.

The only issue that we are facing now is that we are not a factory, we are a school.  To produce these by the pallet load is my dream.  These bricks could go all over the world and even provide shelter for those in regions that are less fortunate.  I mean, why can’t they be cut into the shape of a sandal and have a leather strapped woven through as a way to provide footwear to those without?

The way I see it is the raw material, the plastic bag, is plentiful already.  The need to keep it out of the ocean is obvious.  But now it’s the partnership between a group with the manufacturing ability and a group of creative and imaginative high school students that is needed.

Maybe that’s you!  Or maybe it’s someone you know.  But let me tell you…put a movie with the kick of “A Plastic Ocean” in front of some high school students in this socially conscious era we live in and then watch out!  If we can experiment and convert 1600 plastic bags in a high school lab into 40 plastic bricks, then you have to know this is only the beginning!

You can reach TIM at:

Twitter: @astrostephenson
Instagram: @t.stephenson or @wgssscience