University of Delaware
delware environmental institute

Marine studies and fashion design students join together to suggest alternatives to plastic shopping bags

Each year in the United States, 12 million barrels of oil are used to make 380 billion single-use plastic shopping bags. On average, these bags are used for 12 minutes, but they take 500 years to break down. Students in the University of Delaware master’s seminar called Debating Marine Conservation this fall discovered single-use plastic bags are a local problem as well. Plastic bags are the second most common beach litter in Delaware (after cigarette butts). In a survey that the students conducted in Lewes, Delaware, two-thirds of people said they sometimes or always take plastic bags when shopping, but only 38 percent return them to large retailers for recycling.

In addition to being unsightly, the plastic bags can kill marine life that mistake them for food or get entangled in them, and students initially wanted to advocate for a ban on businesses giving the bags out at all, as has been done in places around the country, most recently in Boston. As they surveyed the Lewes community, the students realized that it wouldn’t be practical to start with a ban, and they adapted their approach to something that ended up generating a great deal of interest when the students presented their ideas to Lewes community members who attended a presentation at UD’s Hugh R. Sharp campus in Lewes on Dec. 7.