LAKE PLACID – Today is Earth Day – the day to plant a tree, plant a seed or do something nice for our environment. But for Lake Placid Middle-High School senior Ellen Lansing, every day is Earth Day.
Lansing, 17, grew up spending summers at her family’s camp in Lake Placid, and she said those times were formative for her love of the lakes and mountains around her. Now she is taking steps to protect them.
Each LPMHS senior is required to complete a senior project to graduate. For Lansing’s main project, she is encouraging local lawmakers to pass a commercial ban on single-use plastic water bottles in the city of North Elba and the village of Lake Placid. This does not mean, however, that bottled water will disappear from store shelves. The bottles would simply be made from different materials, such as aluminum or cardboard. Think of a milk carton or a soda can filled with water.
“We don’t want to deprive people of water at all, that’s not the goal” Lansing said. “It just changes the way we drink it.”
Lansing is modeling its trade ban proposal after a similar ban that is now active on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. If the city and village were to begin a commercial ban on single-use water bottles, Lake Placid would be the first place in the state to ban bottled water on a commercial level. Lansing thinks the ban would help Lake Placid’s image as a sustainable, nature-based community.
“That would put us even more on the map,” she says.
She said Lake Placid could act as a leader in sustainable practices for the state; part of the idea behind the ban is that other communities would soon follow.
Lansing presented his ideas for the ban to the village board and city council last month to a positive but cautious reception.
“You preach the choir when you talk to me” North Elba Councilman Jason Leon told Lansing last month. “…However, it’s hard to imagine the process because it’s so vast and so nebulous, and it seems ultra restrictive so to speak.”
City councilors discussed the challenges the ban could bring, especially when it comes to regional events like the Ironman Lake Placid Triathlon. North Elba City Supervisor Derek Doty told Lansing that if it could come up with an infrastructure system to replace single-use plastic water bottles, “So let’s go.”
Lansing will appear before the village council again next week to follow up. She is determined to enforce the ban, even though she plans to leave for college in the fall.
“It started more like my senior project,” she says, “but it’s like, way more than that now.”
Lansing goes to Main Street with Tiffany O’Brien, his colleague from The Cottage and an environmental studies graduate from Paul Smith’s College. O’Brien has volunteered to help Lansing pass the plastic bottle ban, and they’re approaching Lake Placid businesses to get signatures of support for the project. They have already gained support from businesses like the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery and the Green Goddess Market. Lansing hopes to take the petition to city and town councils to help “to start the ball rolling” on the ban.
What’s wrong with recycling?
Recycling is often presented as a “green” choice when it comes to throwing away a single-use plastic, but Lansing said many recycled plastics never make it to the recycling facility.
The United States has historically shipped millions of tons of plastic to China each year, but in 2018 China’s National Sword Policy banned most plastic imports that did not comply with stricter policies. . The United States diverted its plastics to other, smaller countries with lower-paid workers and more lax environmental rules, but subsequent bans in some of those countries caused a back-up of recyclables here.
Because the United States has relied on China to recycle its plastics for so many years, it has never developed a strong enough system to handle the recycling that persists. But the problem existed before the Chinese ban. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 94.2 million of the 267.8 million tons of municipal solid waste generated by Americans in 2017 was recycled or composted, and only 8% of that waste was plastic. Lansing said the linear waste generation that occurs when we buy single-use plastics needs to stop, and she thinks plastic water bottles are a good place to start.
Lansing said people can take steps to reduce their plastic use, like using tote bags at the grocery store and buying second-hand or vintage clothes instead of supporting fast fashion, but she focuses on banning commercial water bottles as she does not believe the responsibility for plastic waste should be placed on individual consumers.
She wants to distract from blaming the consumer for hitting plastic companies where it hurts.
“It’s time to move on and go get the big kahunas”, she says.
Lansing is not new to the environmental scene. She has been involved with the LPMHS Environmental Club since she was in middle school and runs the club’s composting program – Placid Planet – with fellow senior Astrid Livesey. Lansing is also part of the Youth Climate Program at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake. For the past two months, she and Livesey have spoken at a Catskills Climate Summit and Virtual Climate Summit about their efforts with the school’s composting program. This summer, Lansing said she and Livesey will be featured in the Wild Center’s new Climate Solutions exhibit.
Lansing was accepted into Columbia University’s environmental science program this year. She is still waiting to hear about financial aid, but she hopes to make Columbia her next step. Wherever she goes, however, she said she will take her passion for the environment with her.
“This passion (has) continued to grow and grow over the years”, she says. “Now I can’t see my life without her.”