This story starts with a nursing student named Sara. Adrienne Gulley, my pollution prevention colleague (pictured speaking with a conference attendee), and I met Sara while overseeing the IISG exhibitor booth at the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. We had been there two days and had already talked to about 1,200 public health professionals and students.
Some of the conversations were eye-opening. A few of our booth visitors admitted that they didn’t know that flushing medicine down the toilet was not the way to properly dispose of it. Other interactions were downright refreshing—which brings us back to Sara.
Sara and two other students stopped by our table for the pill-shaped USB drives, but they stayed to learn about how to properly dispose of expired and unwanted medication. Then they stayed a little longer to learn how to read ingredient labels to see if their personal care products contain plastic microbeads. They were engaged and polite, just like every other person that stopped to talk with us.
But unlike every other person, five minutes after Sara left our table, she came back. And she brought more students with her. Before Adrienne or I even had time to say hello, Sara was explaining what microbeads are, what to look for on the ingredient list (polyethylene or polypropylene), and that microbeads have been found in several species of fish in the Great Lakes.
Over the course of the four-day event, we talked to people from at least 23 states as well as Puerto Rico, Uganda, South Africa, and Afghanistan—sharing information and learning some new things ourselves. But Sara is going to stick in my mind for a long time.
Sara, if you are reading this, if the nursing career doesn’t work out, I think you have a very strong future in education and outreach.