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Celebrating Earth Day Is Elementary

By: Kris Hazelton

David Born is a man with a mission.

Although David has worked on various recycling projects in Estes Park in the past, he saw a program on television about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and it moved him to act.

Much of our waste today is comprised of plastic that does not biodegrade. This waste accumulates in swirling seas of debris called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where plastic to sea life ratios are 6:1; where birds and mammals are dying of starvation and dehydration with bellies full of plastics; where fish are ingesting toxins at such a rate that soon they will no longer be safe to eat.

This patch of floating junk, roughly the size of Texas, contains approximately 3.5 million tons of trash. Shoes, toys, plastic bags, pacifiers, wrappers, toothbrushes, and bottles too numerous to count are only part of what can be found in this accidental dump floating midway between Hawaii and San Francisco. (Google Pacific Garbage Dump and you will be forever changed).

The thought of this floating dump is troubling and David wondered just how he could encourage others to reduce, reuse and recycle. The thought occurred to him that maybe he could begin by getting people to start using re-useable bags when they shop and what better place to start to teach the importance of recycling than with the youth of our community. He contacted Estes Park Elementary School Art Teacher Valerie Bowles and told her his idea. She loved it!

But, how to pay for the bags? David enlisted the help of the League Of Women Voters who came up with most of the funds for the purchase of some plain canvas bags which could be decorated by the students and used for shopping. For the remaining amount, League member Diane Burkpile wrote a request to our very own Community Thrift Shop who gave the rest of the money to purchase the re-useable bags.

Mrs. Bowles got the kids very involved, showing them movies about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and how they themselves can make a difference by reducing, reusing and recycling.

The students learned the following shocking facts about plastic shopping bags:
• Production of the bags contributes to air pollution and energy consumption
• Four to five trillion plastic bags are manufactured each year
• Americans use over 380 billion polyethylene bags per year
• Americans throw away approximately 100 billion polyethylene bags per year
• Of those 100 trillion plastic bags, only 1% are recycled
• It takes 1,000 years for polyethylene bags to break down
• As polyethylene breaks down, toxic substances leach into the soil and enter the food chain
• Approximately 1 billion seabirds and mammals die per year by ingesting plastic bags
• Plastic bags are often mistaken as food by marine mammals. 100,000 marine mammals die yearly by eating plastic bags.
• These animals suffer a painful death, the plastic wraps around their intestines or they choke to death
• Plastic bags choke landfills
• Plastic bags are carried by the wind into forests, ponds, rivers, lakes and our oceans
• There are alternatives to plastic bags. All of this death and pollution is unnecessary
They learned that to help out this terrible situation they can:
• Reuse plastic shopping bags and wraps
• Use wax paper instead of polyethylene products
• Utilize reusable shopping bags made of cloth
• Recycle plastic shopping bags by returning them to the store
• Minimize garbage output by composting and recycling
• Tell others about the harmful impact of plastic bag usage

Students also learned it might take a little planning and a little more time to say no to plastic bags, but by putting life ahead of inconvenience, each and every one of us can make a difference to the health of our planet and to all of those living things that have no choice but to live or to die because of the decisions we make.

This was a very valuable project for the students and David said, “Seeing the children so excited about this project really makes me feel good. It’s working the way I had hoped. This will be good for the kids, for the school and the Earth.”

We at the Estes Park News want to make a difference too. The first 50 people who come into our office and tell us they read this story can show they care and receive an Estes Park News re-useable shopping bag for free! It’s our way of participating along with the students showing the importance of this project and saving our Earth, not only on Earth Day, but everyday!

© 2014 Estes Park News, Inc

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