Extension News

4-H’ers Take on Environmental Issues at State Fair

purse made from recycled snack chip bags


AMES, Iowa -- Iowa doesn’t look like the uninhabitable movie world of “Wall-E” yet, and 4-H’ers are working to keep us from getting there. In their Iowa State Fair issues exhibits 4-H’ers are taking a stand for going “green” and protecting the environment.

“Try to imagine the colossal amount of waste we humans create on a daily basis,” writes 15-year-old Tallia Goodale, of the West Lincoln Blues 4-H club in Mitchell County, in her societal issues exhibit on plastics. Goodale points to studies done by the U.S. based Algalita Marine Research Foundation in the North Pacific Central Gyre, a clockwise rotating mass of water roughly twice the size of the United States. Here currents and winds slow down, making “a leisurely spot for a plastic garbage flow” that had a density of .002 grams per square meter in 1999.

The concentration of plastic jumped to .004 per square meter in 2005, doubling in only six years. In 2007 studies found a five-fold increase in plastic quantities in the gyre and 2008 found yet again an “alarming increase.”

Researchers found the biggest culprits to be wrappers from potato chip bags, food wrappers, plastic water bottles and Styrofoam. Some areas are banning plastic bags; others pursue a vigorous recycling program, Goodale found. She also listed one manufacturer, Trex, which creates composite decking, railing and fencing, turning millions of tons of recycled grocery bags into building materials.

Goodale did a little manufacturing of her own, turning 65 chip bags into a colorful purse. “Many chip bags also wind up in trees and streams where they do harm to wildlife,” she points out.

Jackie Russ, Jones County, is “saving the world one bottle at a time” with a plastic bottle recycling project she and her classmates are starting at Anamosa High School.

“If you want to be green, create reusable sweat shirt and T-shirt shopping bags,” suggests Kaitlin Hull of Polk County, in her exhibit. “Cut out the neck and arms and sew up the bottom.” Instructions are to lay the shirt flat on the table and trace a half circle on the collar and armholes using a lid or bowl.

“Plastic bags are made from oil; their manufacture accounts for 18 percent of the world’s oil,” Hull points out.

Kristy Roth of Manchester in Delaware County states in her exhibit that the average person uses 350 disposable bags per year for grocery shopping.  She compared plastic to paper, and came up with the answer – neither. She found that plastic bags use up oil, but paper shopping bags require four times the energy to manufacture as plastic. “Save trees, water, gas and oil with reusable shopping bags,” she suggests.

Amara Wanders of Mahaska County states in her exhibit, “Plastic bags can take over 1,000 years to biodegrade. Americans use over 380 billion plastic bags every year. One reusable plastic bag can replace over 1,000 bags in its lifetime.”

See all these exhibits and more in the air-conditioned 4-H Exhibits Building at the southwest corner of the fairgrounds.

In Iowa the 4-H program is administered by Iowa State University Extension 4-H Youth Development and headquartered on the university campus in Ames.


Contacts :

Carol Ouverson, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-9640, couverso@iastate.edu

Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, lsternwe@iastate.edu

Photo showing details of chip-bag purse