By Melanie Boncella
The Plastic Bag Free Los Alamos campaign began with Mrs. Michele Altherr. Kinnikinnick Club, an environmental group for elementary-age children had decided that we wanted to do something big for the Earth. Everyone gave several overtly ambitious ideas before Mrs. Altherr, the group leader, suggested stopping plastic bag use. At the time none of us in the club had any idea how bad they were for the environment.
We decided to promote reusable bags and shun plastic ones by putting together an educational campaign including a PowerPoint presentation and a public service announcement. We researched our project on the internet and in the process we found some shocking information.
You see, disposable plastic bags don't biodegrade. Instead, they photodegrade, meaning they break down into tiny pieces. That doesn't sound too bad at first, because animals don't get tangled in them after they've photodegraded, but plastic bags absorb toxins like DDT and PCB, and that's not all. Plastic bags kill animals that get tangled up in them or ingest toxic bits of them. People can also be poisoned, or in the case of infants, suffocated. Being so lightweight, plastic bags don't always stay in the landfill and can drift in the wind getting caught in trees or lifted out to sea.
After we learned all this we put together the components of our education campaign. It mainly focused on the effects that plastic bags have on the environment, but it also explained why reusable bags are better than disposable plastic bags. They biodegrade, can be reused thousands of times, and don't need so much petroleum to make. We showed our PowerPoint to employees at the Smith's in Los Alamos and White Rock and to several classrooms. It shocked and surprised everyone that we showed it to. We also created a thirty-second clay animation Public Service Announcement that was shown at the Real Deal Theater before movies. We felt we had made a decent impact.
Smith's gave away several hundred reusable bags to elementary school students and PEEC posted reminders to bring or buy reusable bags to celebrate Earth Day 2008. The Kinnikinnick Club set up a booth at the Earth Day festival at PEEC, selling clay rear view mirror decorations for people to hang in their cars. Each was shaped like a bag and had a reminder to bring reusable bags to the store. In the early winter of 2008, Kinnikinnick Club gave out small stickers to businesses as storefront reminders to bring reusable bags. People began to abandon plastic grocery bags in favor of reusable shopping bags. According to statistics from Smith's, during a one-year time period (March 2008-March 2009) 865,000 fewer plastic bags were used than anticipated, and the number of plastic bags that are being used in the Smith's in both Los Alamos and White Rock still seem to be decreasing.
How can you help stop plastic bag use? It's very simple. All you have to do is remember to bring your own reusable bag to the store, or buy one if you don't have any. Please do this. It's not at all difficult, and it does make a difference.
Melanie Boncella is an 8th grader at Los Alamos Middle School and an active member of several PEEC clubs and programs for youth.
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