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San Angelo Lifestyles

Little Girl...Big Dream

Aug 26, 2019 06:08PM
written by becca nelson sankey  |  photos by becca nelson sankey and provided by stacie elkins



Nine-year-old Ella Elkins believes grownups can learn a thing or two from kids like her. Two years ago, the Fort Concho Elementary fifth grader made it her mission to educate herself – as well as her community – about the dangers that plastics, like straws and bags, pose to marine life. The project was part of Fort Concho schoolchildren’s participation in the Texas Research Institute of Young Scholars (TRIYS), which requires students to identify a problem that piques their interest, educate themselves on that issue, and try to find a solution.


 Ella Elkins


“Mom kept showing me all the pictures of animals getting hurt and dying because of all the plastic.”       - Ella Elkins


Having snorkeled with her parents in exotic locales like Costa Rica, Roatan and St. Maarten, all in the Caribbean, Ella knew she wanted to explore a topic related to marine life. “Mom kept showing me all the pictures of animals getting hurt and dying because of all the plastic,” she said. “I found some things easy to fix and started telling people about them. Straws get stuck in turtle’s noses, and they can’t get them out. I started telling my friends to use metal straws.”

 
Ella also started an event at H-E-B Grocery, wherein customers who brought in 50 plastic bags for recycling received one free reusable bag. So far, two recycling events have been held, with the third annual tentatively scheduled for Spring 2020. Last March, the event collected 1,150 plastic shopping bags for recycling. The first year, Ella collected more than 
6,000 bags.


 


“A lot of people didn’t know a lot – even grownups,” Ella said of the plastic bag recycling drives. “As a kid, they might be more likely to listen to you. When you have something this important to you,  it makes you a little bit different than everyone else. You’re doing something that helps everyone learn and make the world a better place.”


 

Ella started an event at H-E-B Grocery, wherein customers who brought in 50 plastic bags for recycling received one free reusable bag. The third annual event is tentatively scheduled for Spring 2020.


Ella and her mother, Stacie Elkins, regularly post news articles and videos about the environment to Ella’s Facebook page, Ella Saves the Oceans Project. Positive headlines about the eventual extinction of plastic straws in Australia and a new turtle research center planned for Texas A&M University in Galveston are interspersed with somber, sometimes shocking news, such as the story of a whale that washed up on a beach in the Philippines with more than 88 pounds of plastic inside its stomach.


 Ella & her mother, Stacie Elkins



Ella has seen some of these travesties firsthand while traveling with her parents. “They don’t really recycle in Roatan, and they have some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world,” said Stacie Elkins, Ella’s mother. “There was a beach around the corner from where we stayed that’s uninhabited, and nobody picks up the trash. We call it Trash Beach.”




“There was a beach around the corner from where we stayed that’s uninhabited, and nobody picks up the trash. We call it Trash Beach.”  - Stacie Elkins 


Among the refuse littering the beach were toothbrushes, parts of ceiling fans, plastic shaving razors and other “gross stuff,” Ella said. “It was sad, very, very sad, to know all that marine life is out there and all that trash is washing up on the beach, and it didn’t just come from Roatan,” Stacie said. 


Even in the United States, “what we’re doing is dirty recycling,” she added. “China was the only one taking all that trash for recycling and sorting it – like the caps off water bottles. You have to take that off, and the label. China was the only one doing that, and now they don’t want to. The boats taking recycling over there have unsecured loads, so most of it falls out in the ocean anyway.”


 

According to a website for Earth Day Network, more than 480 billion plastic bottles were sold worldwide in 2016. About one trillion single-use plastic bags were used globally each year, and more than half a billion plastic straws are used every day worldwide. And, according to National Geographic, 91 percent of plastic is not recycled. 


For Ella, those repercussions – in the form of pictures and videos showing animals injured – are worth a thousand words. Ella and Stacie recalled a video on YouTube showing wildlife biologists using a pair of pliers to pull a plastic straw completely lodged inside a sea turtle’s nostril. “There must be a lot of straws in the ocean to get stuck in marine life like that,” Ella said. 


 


The Elkins family has always been conservation-minded and environmentally focused, Stacie said, but even more so since Ella took up her new cause: They compost food scraps in their yard, use reusable metal straws instead of disposable plastic ones at restaurants and at home, swapped plastic shopping bags and produce bags for reusable bags, and drink reverse osmosis water from reusable bottles instead of buying plastic water bottles. “If you don’t buy them, they won’t make them,” Stacie said of single-use plastics. “We’re trying to make sure we’re responsible with things we buy and consume, and how we dispose of them.”





“I will try to learn as much as I can growing up and try to educate people on how to make San Angelo better.”  -Ella Elkins


Though Ella’s TRIYS project concluded more than a year ago, she’s continued her Ella Saves the Oceans Project. “We did an informal thing at Meet the Teacher in the fall of 2018,” Stacie said. “Mrs. White wanted us to do a display encouraging parents and kids to use reusable water bottles at school.”

 

“You’re spending more money buying plastic bottles when you could just buy a canteen,” Ella chimed in. Her goal, she said, is “to spread the news to all of San Angelo,” about ways in which the community can reduce waste, recycle, and save marine life. “I will try to learn as much as I can growing up,” she vowed, “and try to educate people on how to make San Angelo better. People say treat others the way you want to be treated. I think we should treat animals the way we’d want to be treated if you were an animal.” †


To follow the progress of Ella’s project on Facebook, “like” her page at facebook.com/EllaSavesTheOceansProject

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