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Avril E. Wiers, Careerline Tech Center

Students in Careerline Tech Center’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Studies program are exploring the issue of microplastics, hard plastic fragments that are smaller than 5 millimeters across.

Microplastics are ingested by wildlife and can end up in our food system where they leach harmful chemicals that can cause hormone disruption and cancer.

Area students were surprised by the amount of microplastics they found while sampling Lake Michigan beach sand. The waste products present a threat to health and the environment.

Samples were collected from six beaches along the lakeshore of Ottawa County, from Grand Haven State Park to Holland State Park, with the state park beaches having the highest concentrations of microplastics.

“You don’t really notice (plastic) when you go to the beach, but when you are looking for it, there is a lot everywhere. It’s kind of sad because it’s a beautiful place,” said Eli Steigenga, a student in the program.

“I was actually really surprised by the amount of small plastic I found that looked like sea shells,” added Lily DeGroot, another student.

Using the data they collected, students in both the morning and afternoon sessions of the program are engaging in a civic actions project to reduce the concentrations of microplastics. The morning session is focusing their attention on nurdles, which are tiny plastic pellets that are used as a raw material for plastics manufacturing.

Careerline Tech students found the highest levels of microplastic pollution, a waste product that threatens health, on beaches at Holland and Grand Haven state parks.

“I was surprised by how much plastic there actually is. You don’t notice it unless you are really looking for it. The amount of nurdles is insane!” one student said.

The afternoon session is focusing their efforts on increasing recycling efforts at beaches. In general, Michigan has an average recycling rate of 18 percent, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, well below the nationwide average of 32 percent.

Plastic in the environment does not biodegrade; it just breaks down into smaller pieces. That’s why it’s so important for plastics to be recycled properly.

“If plastic doesn’t end up on the beaches, it can’t break down to microplastics,” student Aubrey Sibble explained.

Area students were surprised by the amount of microplastics they found while sampling Lake Michigan beach sand. The waste products present a threat to health and the environment.

Students will continue refining their civic action projects by connecting with community businesses and organizations. At the completion of the module, students will present their work and celebrate their learning.

“Throughout the project-based learning module, we’ve practiced collaboration and teamwork a lot. We’ve also learned how to communicate professionally with business partners,” Ava Carnevale reflected.

The project-based learning module was inspired by the Inland Seas Education Association’s Great Lakes Watershed Field Course, a professional development opportunity to include student-led stewardship actions in their classrooms.

Since 2016, this workshop has created Great Lakes stewards of over 100 teachers who, in turn, inspire curiosity through student-led stewardship actions in their classrooms. For more information on the Field Course program, visit schoolship.org/glwfc.

The Natural Resources & Outdoor Studies program is a one-year career and technical program designed to introduce students in Ottawa County to the diversity of careers in natural resources, sustainability, environmental science, and recreation. To find out more about program enrollment, visit oaisd.org/ctc or talk to your student’s school counselor.

— Avril E. Wiers is an instructor in the Natural Resources and Outdoor Studies program at the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s Careerline Tech Center.

About this series

The MiSustainable Holland column is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme

Environmental Awareness/Action: Environmental education and integrating environmental practices into our planning will change negative outcomes of the past and improve our future.

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