ALPENA - Students in several Alpena elementary school classrooms participated in the Northeast Michigan Earth Day Bag Project in an effort to learn about and raise awareness about plastic pollution in the Great Lakes and oceans. The students decorated hundreds of paper bags with messages about stopping plastics pollution, recycling and how plastics can impact the environment.


"We had over 600 students from first through fifth grade, with an emphasis on the second, third and fourth graders, decorate paper grocery bags with Earth Day messages on them, focused on the issue of plastic pollution and debris in the water," Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative AmeriCorps member Meaghan Gass said. "The goal of this project is to get the public to see the danger one-time use plastic, such as plastic bags, can pose to the environment, and to try to get the public to use more reusable bags and limit their plastic use."


Students watched three different video clips prior to designing their bags about the impact of plastic on wildlife and the water.


"Students were shocked about the impact of plastic pollution," Gass said. "The project really gave students a chance to learn and apply what they learned directly to the community in a creative way. The bags they made were decorated with animal impact messages and pictures, messages about how people can help stop plastic pollution and encouraging drawings and messages about the importance of recycling and using reusable bags for groceries."


The project hit close to home when students learned about the plastic pollution already in the Great Lakes, and how it has impacted the community directly through its impact on wildlife and the environment.


"It's important to use reusable bags because it reduces the number of plastic pollutants in the environment," Gass said.


Students learned about the dangers of plastics in the ecosystem, and how when the plastics eventually break down into smaller pieces called micro-plastics, they can absorb pollutants and be consumed by fish and birds, resulting in serious injury or death to those animals. The theme also goes along with the worldwide attention marine debris has been receiving such as raising awareness about the floating ocean garbage patches. Over the past several years, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension and Huron Pines AmeriCorps have been supporting student awareness about marine debris and keeping the environment clean around Michigan.


"There is a long-standing tradition of thinking about our planet and what we can do to help it on Earth Day," Gass said. "This project is just another way to raise awareness on different ways people can do locally to make a positive impact on the environment."


Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.


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Created on Thursday, April 23, 2015