OCEAN HERO PROFILE, Niccole Tiffany, Carmel, CA, 5th grade teacher, Inspiring students to use their outside voices – and speak out against plastic waste

How Fifth Graders Convinced a City to Say "No" to Single-Use Plastics

Ocean action: In 2017, Carmel-by-the-Sea's City Council voted to require that restaurants stop using single-use plastic straws and utensils and instead provide only compostable to-go serviceware—and only upon request. The law took effect in the spring of 2018. The impetus came from a group of fifth-grade students from Carmel River Elementary School. They spoke at community forums and Carmel City Council meetings to advance the idea. Mayor Steve Dallas later credited them with playing a pivotal role in getting the ordinance enacted. "When it finally passed, the students were ecstatic," says teacher, Niccole Tiffany, of her students. "It was a big lesson on the power of kids' voices in actively creating change."

How the community benefits: Almost 9 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year worldwide—roughly a dump truck full every minute of every day. Community-based plastics initiatives like Niccole's help further California's goal of 75 percent recycling, composting or reduction of solid waste by 2020. And the movement is building—Santa Cruz recently enacted a similar ordinance, and initiatives are gaining momentum in Monterey, Pacific Grove and Marina.

"Teachers and schools are making positive differences in the community. The power of kids' voices is actively creating change."

Oceans of inspiration: The students reached out to Carmel businesses once the ordinance had passed to help with implementation. The Aquarium helped them create an instructional video so restaurant wait staff can share the no-single-use plastic story with customers. "The biggest thing is to keep momentum going," says Niccole. "We're working with other local areas. It's about teachers and schools making positive differences in the community."

Learn more: Carmel Food Packaging Requirements

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The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the ocean.