Bagging on her Gold Award

Some little known facts about plastic bags: they take around 1,000 years to decompose due to being made from petroleum, 100 billion of them are used every year in the United States and 95% of them are never recycled.

These are the kinds of facts that Sienna Hill wants to bring to light. She is a Girl Scout, in her tenth year with the organization, and for her Gold Award project (the Gold Award being the highest achievement possible within the Girl Scouts), she strives to collect as many plastic bags as she can and see to it that they get recycled.

Her initial goal was to collect somewhere around 2,000 bags. Within one day of collecting bags outside of Caltech in Pasadena, she received 8,300 plastic bags. However, she didn’t stop there and was on duty yet again last Saturday, Nov. 13, setting up a table outside of Starbucks in La Cañada. In exchange for the plastic bags that people brought her, she gave them reusable and compostable bags for their shopping needs. The bags were donated by various stores.

“I wrote letters to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Ralph’s, wherever I could,” Sienna said.

Her table was adorned with signs marked “Green Trade,” the title of her project, and other signs that provided passersby with information on the environmental harm plastic bags cause. The posters also contained visual aids, photographs of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of trash, debris, chemicals and other refuse (including plastic) roughly the size of Texas that has clogged a wide section of the North Pacific Ocean, along with pictures of marine and beach animals ensnared in plastic found in the ocean, suffocating and even eating the plastic in some instances.

“This is why I’m doing it,” Hill said, pointing to the pictures.

Behind the table lay a visual in its own way: an enormous pile of the plastic bags accumulated that day. After the collection, Sienna and her mother, Gay, took the bags to the nearest recycling center in Burbank.

“The recycling centers don’t even pay for plastic bags,” Gay said. “But they take them anyway.”

No money, but Sienna and Gay see to it that the bags get recycled, and that is consolation of its own. With AB 1998, a recent bill that would have banned plastic bags at stores throughout California, not passing this past August, contributions such as Sienna’s go a much longer way.