An award winner

  • Davina Sienkiewicz is the winner of the 2021 George Duncan Essay Contest for high school students sponsored by the Monadnock Writers’ Group. Sienkiewicz lives in Wilton, and is a senior at High Mowing School. Photo by Kendal Bush

Published: 4/23/2021 12:46:35 PM

Davina Sienkiewicz, a senior at High Mowing School in Wilton, was recently announced as the winner of the 2021 George Duncan Essay Contest held by the Monadnock Writers’ Group.

Sienkiewicz will read her essay at the organization’s meeting on April 17, at 9:45 a.m. High school students from across the Monadnock Region were asked to submit persuasive, fact-based op-ed style essays that address a political issue in the news. With her interest in sustainability, Sienkiewicz selected “Plastics: Their Rise and Fall From Favor”.

“My teacher asked us to think about something humans invented and decide whether it was good or bad. I narrowed it down to plastics,” Sienkiewicz said.

In her essay, she traces plastic from creation to pollution of the planet and more recently to calls for banning the material.

Sienkiewicz lights up when she talks about sustainability – whether at home with her parents and three siblings or at school in Wilton.

“I’m always looking for ways to decrease and recycle trash,” she said.

Jeff Halford, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Communication at Keene State College and 2021 contest judge, commented that Sienkiewicz’s submission “is an informed, well-written essay on an important topic.” He added that her “writing is both smart and accessible, making for an evidence-based essay that was a pleasure to read.”

The Monadnock Writers’ Group began the high school essay contest to honor the memory of George Duncan, a long-time board member and award-winning author. He was well known for his political commentary. Through a gift from the Duncan Family, the Monadnock Writers’ Group is able to award the contest winner a prize of $100.

Monthly meetings, held on the third Saturday of each month, bring a variety of accomplished writers to the Monadnock Region to offer their experiences.

Along with Sienkiewicz’s reading, Monadnock Writers’ Group will also host Marit Weisenberg at its monthly meeting on Saturday for a discussion around her writing career and upcoming novel.

Email to receive the link for Saturday’s online event.

What comes to mind when you hear the word plastic? Brightly colored children’s toys? Convenient disposables such as water bottles or grocery bags? Derived from the Greek plassein, meaning “pliable and easily shaped,” the word plastic has become the new name for polymers. These versatile, durable materials are found in nature, and synthetically manufactured to create new products for consumers often for rapid disposal. These disposables then enter our environment, breaking down into smaller particles, or microplastics, before infiltrating every part of our beloved earth.

Made of strands of repeating molecules, polymers are diverse and integrated into nearly every aspect of modern life. Depending on their makeup, polymers can be rigid or pliable. Naturally occurring polymers are found in the cell walls of plants which are made up of cellulose, or in rubber trees which create a milky liquid containing thirty percent rubber. The earliest evidence we have of polymers being used by humans was the Olmecs, who used the latex from rubber trees to create balls nearly a millennium and a half before the common era, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that people began to create synthetic plastics. Billiards was putting a strain on the Ivory supply, prompting a New York firm to offer a $10,000 reward to anyone who could create an adequate replacement. John Wesley Hyatt discovered that, by treating the natural cellulose from cotton fibers with camphor, he could create a new material which he could manipulate to imitate natural items, including ivory. Hyatt’s creation was a brilliant success, marking the first time in history where human invention was not limited by what was provided by nature; now we had the capability to create new material. Beyond that, contrary to modern perspective, plastics were seen as an environmental savior, providing an alternative to slaughtering rhinoceri and elephants for their horns. Over the decades, our ability to create plastics and products from them inexpensively and rapidly, led to a growing demand for the product that had quickly become a staple in everyday life. Food suppliers swapped out glass or paper packaging for the more durable and convenient material, toys were mass produced, and leaps were made in medical fields. Soon we became dependent on this new, under-researched, material.

Durability, one of the characteristics that made the material popular, is now leading to its ultimate fall from favor. When we drop a plastic bottle, we can thank the durable composition of the material which prevents the container from breaking and keep the liquid contained, but when we drop it in the trash that same durability immediately becomes a major downfall. Yes, plastics will eventually break down, but not in the way we want. Aside from the nine percent which get recycled, the rest breaks into microplastics which then pollute every corner of our planet. These microscopic pieces have been found in marine animals, in human tissue, and in the water we drink. An intact grocery bag was found in the Mariana trench in the depths of the ocean, and microplastics have been found on top of the French Pyrenees, an isolated mountain range.

These troubling discoveries have led to the call to ban plastics in recent years, and the growing popularity of trash free movements. As the climate crisis rages around us, we are being forced to face what we have done to our planet, and people are beginning to take action. Beginning March 1, 2020, New York City followed a few other metropoles and created a ban on plastic bags. Bans such as these are controversial, with their effectiveness constantly in question, but for now it’s a step in the right direction. Someday we will have to truly come to terms with the fact that our creation and use of polymers is irresponsible and unsustainable, and when that day comes, we will be glad we made these first steps to reducing our dependence.

So, let me ask you once again: what comes to mind when you hear the word plastics? Is it the convenience of the material? Or is it the dependency we have created? Is it the abundant pollutants found in the depths of the oceans and in human tissue? It is undeniable that many of the advancements we have made as a human race would not have been possible without the aid of synthetic polymers, but with the not-so new realization of the trauma plastic creates in our natural environment it is time we move beyond. The human mind is limitless, the inventions we have created are both great and terrible, but this shows us that there are no confines to what we can do. It is time to dedicate this ability to finding a solution to the plastics crisis once and for all.

Davina Sienkiewicz is the winner of the 2021 George Duncan Essay Contest for high school students sponsored by the Monadnock Writers’ Group. Sienkiewicz lives in Wilton, and is a senior at High Mowing School.


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