Middle school student doing his part for the environment, educating others

A Glastonbury teen is doing his part in cleaning up litter in town.

Dylan Polak, 14, an eighth grade student at Smith Middle School, became interested in environmental issues just a few years ago. He said it stemmed from his mother, Dana Polak, who would routinely point out garbage.

“If you see something, you should take it with you and leave the place better than when you came,” Dana said. “It started him to become aware that you can make a choice – you can make a difference if you want to.”

The two take frequent walks along the trails of Riverfront Park, as well as J. B. Williams Park, the Bell Street trail, and other spots in town, as well as some state parks, including Hammonassett. They collect garbage others leave behind, and are often applauded by people they encounter. In Riverfront Park, Dylan said the most frequent things they find are cigarette butts and empty food and beverage containers.

Dylan also encourages recycling and can explain what plastics do to the environment, as well as people, if not disposed of properly.

“Plastic is an issue, because it can get into everything. It can get into people’s food, and people are eating it. It’s not good for our bodies,” he said. “It kills animals and can kill people as well.”

He urges people to frequent restaurants that use recycled/recyclable materials to convey food.

“People don’t think there are alternatives to plastic, but there are,” Dana said.

Reducing, Dylan said, is actually more important than recycling. Cutting down the usage of plastics will create less demand for them, and less waste.

“Recycling would be using a metal straw,” he said. “Reducing would be using nothing at all [and drinking straight from a cup].”

The Polaks helped out at the recent Pitch In cleanup event – a partnership between Glastonbury Partners in Planting and Glastonbury Parks and Recreation – and plan to help organize more events. Dylan said he wants to start a youth-driven group that will also do cleanup events.

Dylan also partners with 4 Ocean, which is a “purpose-driven business on a mission to end the ocean plastic crisis.” The organization removes plastic items and turns them into bracelets, given to subscriber members. It also sells eco-friendly products and uses proceeds to further the cause.

“They’ve cleaned up a total of 10 million pounds of plastic, and they’re only a few years old,” he said.

Dylan has also educated himself to be an expert on invasive species of plants. Just beyond center field at the Riverfront baseball diamond, he said, is a large thicket of knotweed, which, if left unchecked, could cause the surrounding trees and other plants to die.

“It’s a lot like bamboo. It’s from Japan, and shouldn’t be here,” he explained, adding that the weed first came to the U.S. because people liked the floral-like white plumes, not knowing knotweed’s killer properties.

Herbicides are the most effective treatment, but it can be very difficult to get rid of.

“They’re actually edible in the spring, when it first comes out of the ground,” Dylan added. “The roots are really strong – they’re as big as tree roots. It can take up to seven years to be gone. If it keeps growing here, it can affect trees and agriculture. It can get really bad.”

Dylan said that without a doubt, his future career goal is to be an environmentalist, but he’s not yet sure which specific aspect he’d focus on.

“What certain thing I want to do, I don’t know,” he said. “Right now, getting rid of plastic is my focus.”


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