State policymakers on Monday urged local sixth-graders to make their voices heard on the issue of plastic pollution.

“Your advocacy and voices matter,” Essex Jct. Rep. Dylan Giambatista told students at the Albert D. Lawton school. “We really hear them in Vermont.”

Giambatista joined Sen. President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P) for a morning discussion as part of ADL’s three-week unit called, “Plastic: Is it good or bad?”

Teachers Peter Gustafson, Bill Burrell and Jamie Caron created the curriculum over the summer. They were inspired by an issue of National Geographic dedicated to the issue of plastic, Gustafson said, and hoped to show students that their generation will need to fix problems caused by the ones before them.

“It’s up to them now, by the time they’re in their 30s and have kids their age, to have a healthier planet,” Gustafson said during the talk. “We made a lot of mistakes, my generation. So now you guys have got to take care of it.”

“No pressure,” Giamabstia added, laughing.

Students are tackling the topic through the subjects of math, science and the humanities. The unit will include a demonstration with the Champlain Solid Waste District in which an entire day’s worth of trash and recycling will be laid out on a tarp outside the school to show students what’s been properly and improperly disposed of.

During the unit, students will use statistical tools to examine ADL’s plastic use and recycling program, and investigate and build models of polymeric plastics to better understand atoms and molecules.

Under Gustafson’s guidance, students will also persuasive essays to any retailers within a three-mile radius that contribute to pollution in one way or another, and plan to present the letters to store managers next week, Gustafson said. Another group of students has taken on the ambitious task of writing to nationwide companies, like Starbucks and Walmart, to call their attention to the problem, too.

“We’re hoping this small little ripple expands out a bit,” Gustafson said.

Giambatista and Ashe outlined some ongoing statewide discussions concerning plastics, specifically S.113, a senate bill that would prohibit the use of single-use plastic bags and require they charge 10 cents or more for single-use paper bags. The bill would also ban retailers from providing styrofoam coffee cups, takeout containers and other food containers, though certain products, like egg cartons, would be allowed still, according to VtDigger.

The bill passed in the senate last month 27-3 and will now need to pass through the House before it heads to Governor Phil Scott.

“Our primary goal is to keep people healthy, and the planet healthy,” Ashe said.

When the legislators opened the floor for students, some offered several of their own additions to the bill, asking for a ban on plastic utensils and increased funding for water filters to combat the use of single-use plastic water bottles. The lawmakers said it’s this type of advocacy that helps inform them about how to best represent their community.

“Everything we do today really impacts your future,” Giambatista said. “You need to keep the heat on us to tell us, ‘Hey, go and pass these laws that we care about that are going to make a difference, because we can’t afford it in the future.”

Furthering the call for action, Giambatista noted that plastic production and trash disposal are big businesses built on consumer habits, so younger generations need to encourage companies through their own actions – the things they buy and the places they spend their money.

“Each of you has a role,” he said.