Plastic bags may be convenient to use, but they pollute the environment and have a life expectancy of at least 500 years, which is why graduate students from the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean & Environment have been working on a semester-long project to reduce plastic bag use in Lewes.
During a Dec. 7 presentation to the Lewes Chamber of Commerce, marine science graduate students Paul Leingang and Emily Ruhl made the pitch for a program in Lewes they were calling B3 – Businesses for Better Bags.
Ruhl described the program as a voluntary coalition designed for gradual reductions in plastic bag usage. She said businesses could promote a reusable bag lifestyle.
The two students, who were representing about a dozen of their classmates, rattled off why plastic bags are bad for the environment.
Leingang said, behind cigarette butts, plastic bags are the second most common form of litter found on Delaware’s beaches.
Ruhl said plastic bags can have serious consequences for marine life. She said the bags can be confused for other sea life and be eaten, cause entanglement, break down into microplastics and bring chemicals into bodies of water.
The students said there are challenges removing all plastic bags from use, but Ruhl said this program is more of a grassroots effort that can be used as a stepping stone toward that ultimate goal.
As part of the project, the marine science students worked with students from the university’s fashion design program to create reusable bags that were visually appealing, practical and specific to Lewes.
All of the designs focused on using sustainable, biodegradable materials – such as tencel, jute, organic cotton or canvas.
Danielle Dixson, College of Earth, Ocean & Environment assistant professor, teaches the class. She said she’ll continue to offer the course in future semesters, and she said she hopes future classes can build on this one.
It’s all well and good to learn about conservation, Dixson said, but conservation is an action item.
For more information on the project go to lewesplasticbagproject.weebly.com.