Danielle Dixson has always been interested in the ocean. So when she moved to Delaware in 2015 to teach at the University of Delaware, she was excited to have the unique opportunity to work at the Lewes campus, not far from the beach.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to develop pretty unique courses. My hope is to help students communicate marine conservation,” says the assistant professor.
Last fall, she challenged eight students in her graduate-level course—debating marine conservation—to make something in the community better.
The class wanted to help reduce plastic bag usage, so they designed a reusable shopping bag made from recycled plastic bottles. “They gave a presentation to the community and outlined a solution, which was their final exam,” says Dixson.
Single-use plastic bags are not biodegradable and are often consumed by fish, turtles and whales. The Ocean Conservancy recently deemed plastic bags as the second deadliest threat to sea turtles, birds and marine mammals.
At the presentation were members of the Lewes Chamber of Commerce and Delaware Sea Grant, an organization that helps Delaware communities use, manage and conserve the state’s coastal resources by fostering sustainable coastal economies, developing resilience to coastal hazards and preparing the next generation of coastal leaders.
“Delaware Sea Grant donated the money to help kick-start the program. We purchased 1,500 reusable bags, which cost $5 to make and are produced in New Hampshire. They are sold for $10 in stores and the extra $5 goes to producing more bags in the future,” says Dixson.
Dixson presents the reusable bag to Sen. Tom Carper, Lewes Mayor Ted Becker and Betsey Reamer, the Executive
Students from the fashion design school on main campus helped create the concept and logo that is on the bag. “I added the horseshoe crab to symbolize Lewes,” says Dixson.
The bag project rolled out during the summer and any shop in Lewes with a green “Businesses for Better Bags” sticker in their window has them for sale. At the time of the launch, 16 stores in Lewes agreed to participate.
Dixson has already been contacted by a number of other Delaware towns that are looking to participate in the project in the future. “Rehoboth has contacted me as well as Fenwick Island and Newark, so we may approach a different town,” Dixson says. “We would create a bag with a similar design and make it something people can collect.”
But for now, she’s happy to see others determined to care for the environment. “Conservation has always been important to me. And because money is very limited, it’s important that what we are doing has a big impact.”