An Upper Arlington High School senior recently teamed up with a local independent supermarket to encourage shoppers to ditch plastic bags for a reusable option.
The day before Thanksgiving, 17-year-old Abbie Morris stood outdoors in morning temperatures in the 30s, stopping shoppers walking into Huffman's Market at the Tremont Center.
To the surprise of many she encountered, Morris wasn't asking for donations, nor was she peddling cookies, crafts or other products.
She was handing out free, reusable grocery bags printed with a Huffman's Market logo and pitching a concept she hopes will garner momentum in her community and beyond.
Her goal: Eliminate the use of plastic bags in Upper Arlington.
"A simple decision to bring a reusable bag to the grocery store instead of using plastic is one step in the right direction," Morris said.
Morris took up the push for the elimination of plastic grocery bags in Upper Arlington and the Columbus area in part because as an Upper Arlington High School senior, she's charged with completing a senior thesis project.
She said she also was enlightened about the environmental problems the bags present after an ordeal during a family vacation.
"My family took a trip to Hawaii this past summer, and on the top of Mount Haleakala, I was unfortunate enough to contract altitude sickness," Morris said. "Through the entire hourlong drive down the dormant volcano, I had emptied my stomach of everything that I had consumed earlier that day.
"When we arrived at the bottom of the mountain, my mother ran around trying to find a plastic bag, because paper bags just weren't useful for this situation. She soon came to find that there are no plastic bags on the island, and that they had been banned the year before."
Morris researched the issue and found that CleanSeas.org, a United Nations Environment Program, has determined at least 8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year.
According to CleanSeas.org, 99 percent of the world's seabirds will have ingested plastic by 2050, and that litter from items such as plastic bags harms more than 600 marine species each year.
"When I saw the startling statistics about plastic bags in the environment, I knew I didn't have a choice but to take action," Morris said. "This capstone project has given me the opportunity to speak up for something that I am passionate about and work to make actual change in my community.
"I chose to partner with (Huffman's owner Tim) Huffman because of his continuous support not only to the community of Upper Arlington, but to each and every one of its members and students."
On Nov. 23, Morris passed out literature about environmental issues created by plastic bags and the virtues of employing reusable grocery bags.
She also handed out approximately 290 of the 300 reusable bags paid for by Huffman and with money Morris raised last summer through babysitting and other odd jobs.
Huffman said he hasn't eliminated plastic bags at his store, in part because some shoppers prefer them.
He also hasn't taken a position as to whether they should be banned, but acknowledged their use can drive up his costs, which in turn could be passed on to customers.
He said he agreed to partner with Morris on her capstone project because she approached him and he likes to support community members. He also was impressed by her work ethic and passion for bringing light to the issue.
"I'm not going to say plastic bags are good or bad, but I said, 'You know what? Go ahead and do it. It'll be good for the environment.'
"I thought it was commendable for her to do this. I think that any time at all you can reuse something rather than making a new product, it's good."
Huffman acknowledged Morris' idea to pass out bags with his store's name and logo on them in front of his supermarket wasn't likely to hurt business.
"It was a win-win," he said. "She got to spread her message out there, and it gives us a little advertising.
"And people got bags they could reuse."
Morris said she hopes to convince central Ohio residents to change their perspectives and habits as she continues to present her project to teachers and community members.
"Next year, I hopefully can pass my capstone topic down to a junior or even an ambitious sophomore," she said.
"The project can continue to be passed down for as long as it takes to get the end goal accomplished of eliminating plastic bags in Upper Arlington and making the community more aware of their potential danger to our environment."