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Aquinas student organizes cleanup event at GH State Park beach

• Mar 15, 2019 at 5:00 PM

On a beautiful, sunny day two months ago, Aquinas College senior Briana Meeker went out to the Rosy Mound Natural Area in Ottawa County’s Grand Haven Township. But what she saw disappointed her: plastic straws, bottle caps, plastic forks, a deflated balloon with the ribbon still attached.

Seeing all this trash inspired her to organize a Grand Haven State Park beach clean-up event for her capstone project, which will take place April 20.

The goal for Meeker’s project is to educate the community about the importance of sustainable living, and to bring about awareness of the effects of single-use plastics — plastics that people use once and then throw away, such as water bottles, straws and forks. These single-use products often end up in our lakes and on our beaches.

According to the Alliance of the Great Lakes, 22 million pounds of plastic end up in the Great Lakes each year. Plastics in the lakes then break down into pieces as small as grains of sand. People end up drinking these microplastics, because many Michigan cities — including Grand Haven — rely on Lake Michigan as their main source of drinking water.

“We have this throw-away culture, where everyone is just so inclined to purchase something and throw it away after little use,” Meeker said. “When people say ‘throw it away,’ they don’t really know what that means. Nothing is ever gone — everything we produce on this earth is still here today.”

The zero-waste event will start with breakfast foods from Aldea Coffee and Grand Finale. Volunteers will then head out to the lakeshore to collect trash, keeping track of the items they collect. After the event, they will sort the trash into recycling and landfill items.

Partners for the event include the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) and the Alliance for the Great Lakes (AGL) Adopt a Beach program. This program offers an easy system to record the trash collected; AGL compiles the data from each beach cleanup for reports on plastics in the Great Lakes.

Other partners include Brittany Goode of Aldea Coffee, who Meeker has been working with since her fall WMEAC internship, and beach cleanup veteran Drew Paloucek, with more than 15 such events under her belt.

Following the event, the wristbands volunteers will receive for participating in it will get them discounts at Aldea Coffee and other possible partnering businesses.

The event will provide all necessary items — gloves, grabbers and buckets — although volunteers should bring sunscreen and a reusable water bottle or a coffee mug for complementary coffee. They can also bring a bucket or gardening gloves if they have a favorite pair. Meeker will give out eco-friendly prizes, including a zero-waste kit, which will contain items such as a reusable coffee mug or water bottle.

The event is free and open to the public. Volunteers can show up anytime Saturday, April 20, between 9 a.m. and noon to offer their support. If you are interested in joining the event, you can sign up at greatlakesadopt.org/Secure/Event/14828.

About the writer: Madalyn Buursma is the eco-journalist intern at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC). She is currently a senior at Calvin College, where she is majoring in writing and minoring in both political science and Chinese. She also works as the features editor at the Calvin College Chimes.

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