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Local Girl Scouts attempt to remove Styrofoam

Local Girl Scouts attempt to remove Styrofoam
Girl Scouts Kristen Vitolo, Sarah Andrews, Tanvi Singh and Adeline Thorpe are part of a larger group of local Girl Scouts who are developing a proposal to ban the use of polystyrene products they want to bring to the Burbank City Council. (Anthony Clark Carpio / Burbank Leader)

It's Girl Scout cookie season and hundreds of troops are soliciting people for their donations for sweet treats. However, a group of Girl Scouts from the San Fernando Valley is focused more on asking for support on a project to make their world free of polystyrene.

For the past three years, members from Troops 2406 and 1726 have been working on a proposal to convince their elected officials to adopt a ban on expanded polystyrene, more commonly known as Styrofoam.

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Members of the strong-willed group of about 12 Girl Scouts, who include middle and high school students mainly from Burbank, are hoping to have a plan they can present to the Burbank City Council in the next few months.

"It's really important, especially for our generation, to get our voices out there because we're the ones most affected by this in the future," said Kristen Vitolo, a sophomore at Van Nuys High School.

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"We want to make a change in our community so that we can show a good example to the younger kids and the next generation," added Sarah Andrews, a senior at Burbank High School.

The efforts of the Burbank Planetary Hazard Awareness Team, the name the Scouts have given their group, have not gone unnoticed. The Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles has been supportive and encouraging of their efforts.

"The nice thing about Girl Scouts is that it inspires girls to take action on their own, so we often see that Girl Scouts are the ones that are starting clubs at their school or college and mobilizing people around an issue," said Melanie Larsen, a spokeswoman for the local branch of the organization.

The girls have also been working closely with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, a nonprofit based in Long Beach that's focused on finding a solution to plastic pollution in the oceans.

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The proposal they are working on is based off of Long Beach's ban on polystyrene, said David Andrews, Sarah's father and leader of Troop 2406.

Katie Allen, executive director of Algalita, said the girls approached the organization when they started their endeavor. Allen said they have held workshops for the Scouts and recently invited them to the nonprofit's annual educational event, called the Plastic Ocean Pollution Solutions International Youth Summit.

The three-day event, which was held in Dana Point last weekend, had groups of students from around the world, including Cambodia, the Bahamas, Zimbabwe, Lebanon and New Zealand, that were working on projects to reduce plastic pollution where they live, Allen said.

Sarah and Kristen attended the summit and said they learned about the steps they needed to take to properly develop a campaign to educate the public about plastic pollution and how to approach and develop a proposal to their elected officials to ban the use of polystyrene.

"A really important thing that our mentor told us was to start small — don't go straight for the government," Kristen said. "We need to start small, like with restaurants, and get them to start being plastic-free. They can be our trendsetters to help us move the whole campaign ahead."

The girls also learned this lesson the hard way. The group decided to write letters to their state and federal officials, asking if they would consider banning all one-time use plastic products. In return, they received some discouraging words.

"It's not all ponies and unicorns," Kristen said. "We have to get through it, and no matter how long it takes, we'll get through it."

"They just saw us as cute Girl Scouts instead of understanding the big issue," Sarah added.

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The "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger" mentality the girls have adopted has been an inspiration to their parents and organizations working with them.

Allen said she and her colleagues at Algalita are either in their late 20s or early 30s, so they understand the energy and passion the girls have for this issue.

"It just fuels us even more," she said. "They're just this untapped resource that we just so badly want to give them everything that we possibly can, so they can run with it."

Tanvi Singh, a seventh-grade student at John Muir Middle School, is one of the youngest members of the group and said she became more inspired by the project and has continued to learn about the issue.

"When we persuade other people to start taking action, it helps that some people are supporting us and making other groups to tell other people," she said. "I think this can cause change."

Adeline Thorpe, an eighth-grade student at John Muir, said she was originally from Australia and that people in that country had a different mentality about pollution and recycling compared to Americans.

She said she was surprised to find out that her school did not have a compost bin to throw away food scraps.

"I was very shocked with the lack of education on the topic of recycling," Adeline said. "People [here] don't know how to recycle, and I just want to educate people and let them know that they can make a difference."

Twitter: @acocarpio

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