More than a clean-up

It was a cloudy Tuesday morning, but at least 110 students from the Pegasus School in Huntington Beach took to the beach to work on their scientific experiment with a goal to get local officials to notice and do something about plastic on the beaches and in the Santa Ana River.

Some of the school's seventh- and eighth-graders have been invited to the 2011 Algalita's Plastics Are Forever International Youth Summit, where they will present their solution for plastic-free bodies of water.

"Our main goal is to make California an eco-friendly place, and, eventually, we hope that it will go global," said Jodie Horowitz, 13, one of the students presenting the project at the summit.

The Pegasus team will be one of 30 groups from 14 countries to present their ideas on how to properly dispose of plastic and minimize its effects on the environment.

The groups were chosen from 74 teams that applied to attend the summit, which is taking place March 11 to 13 in Long Beach, said Pam Conti, environmental education director at Pegasus.

"This is huge," Conti said. "First of all, it's mostly high schools that enter the summit, and we're one of only two middle schools that I know of that are accepted."

Instead of doing a basic cleanup of the beach, the students are roping off 1-meter squares of sand, collecting the sand in that area, and sifting through the trash in the sand to find out its type and source.

Their hypothesis is that the trash is coming from up-river, flowing to the ocean and landing on the beach, Conti said.

They started right at the shore and planned to go in 100 feet toward the Santa Ana River to figure out if the same type of trash is found near the river, she said.

Their goal is to present their findings to the Huntington Beach City Council and get it to ban Styrofoam products and single-use plastic.

The students are also looking at ways to stop the trash before it reaches the river or beach. Helping them is Jeff Coffman, president of Clean Green Technology and a Surfrider Foundation volunteer.

Coffman said he's working with engineers on developing two systems. One, called the storm drain debris extract, will collect the trash where it filters into one spot; the second, called the monitoring and alert system, will indicate when the debris extract is full so that it can be emptied without overflowing, he said.

"The ultimate goal is stopping this insanity of trash on the beach," Conti said.

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