Paper, plastic or reusable bags? Alpena youth ‘bagging it’ for Earth Day

Alpena elementary students apply their art skills on Earth Day to promote awareness and action toward the issue of plastic pollution and marine debris in our Great Lakes.

Ella White Elementary students decorate paper grocery bags to educate community about the issue of plastic pollution and marine debris on Earth Day. Photo Credit: Meaghan Gass

Ella White Elementary students decorate paper grocery bags to educate community about the issue of plastic pollution and marine debris on Earth Day. Photo Credit: Meaghan Gass

Many 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade elementary classrooms in Alpena County are participating in the Northeast Michigan Earth Day Bag Project in an effort to celebrate Earth Day and raise awareness about the issue of plastic pollution in our Great Lakes and oceans. Since 1970, Earth Day has become a worldwide tradition in recognizing and appreciating our living planet and educating people on current issues facing our habitats. Those who grocery shop at Neiman’s Family Market in Alpena can support Earth Day and these young artists by answering a simple question – paper, plastic, or reusable bag? 

Through the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, more than 600 Alpena elementary students are decorating paper grocery bags with Earth Day messages focused on the issue of marine debris and the dangers of plastic pollution in our local waterways. These bags – and their important messages – will then be distributed to customers shopping at Neiman’s Family Market on Earth Day (April 22). This project allows students to share their decorated grocery bags with their community and promote the conservation of our Great Lakes and natural resources in a creative and impactful way.

The Northeast Michigan Earth Day Bag Project is focused on lowering the use of plastic bags and urging consumers to make the switch to paper or reusable bag alternatives. According to Michigan State University Extension, opting to use a reusable bag is always the best choice because it eliminates the spread of harmful toxins in our waterways. Choosing paper is another positive alternative because it promotes using renewable products that degrade quickly and naturally in the environment. Both options can help limit the number of plastic bags in our waterways.

Litter and marine debris such as plastic bags, are harmful to a water ecosystem. These bags eventually break down into small plastic fragments or micro-plastics that can absorb pollutants. They can also be consumed by fish and birds which can result in death. Worldwide attention toward the issue of marine debris stems from numerous campaigns aimed at raising awareness about floating ocean garbage patches. The NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension and Huron Pines AmeriCorps have been supporting student efforts to raise awareness toward marine debris and micro-plastics throughout Michigan.

Alpena area youth are familiar with the dangers of plastic pollution. Alpena High School chemistry students have been working with Great Lakes scientists to study the issue of micro-plastics in Lake Huron, a project supported by the Sea Grant Center for Great Lakes Literacy. These students have been monitoring small plastic particles and comparing micro-plastic levels in Thunder Bay and Lake Huron. In class they have been investigating and raising awareness about personal care products, such as facial scrubs, which can sometimes contain tiny plastic beads as exfoliates. Students at Thunder Bay Jr. High monitor environmental health and conduct beach clean-ups at local public parks along Lake Huron’s shoreline as part of the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program. Elementary youth have also studied the effects of invasive species and have been learning how to detect signs of chemical pollution in waterways. Thus, the Northeast Michigan Earth Day Bag Project is an extension of the great work that students are doing to limit pollution in the Great Lakes.

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