Tote Bags That Carry a Message

By Jeanne Shook  |  Photograph by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
From the Holiday 2018 issue


In the 1967 film “The Graduate,” Dustin Hoffman’s character famously received this career advice: “Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.” Fast- forward 50 years to a group of University of Delaware graduate students who — together with an alliance of downtown Lewes businesses — are offering their own spin on “a great future in plastics.”

Designed to reduce the community’s dependence on single-use bags, Businesses for Better Bags is the brainchild of eight UD students and School of Marine Science and Policy Assistant Professor Danielle Dixson. The project originated in Dixson’s marine conservation class at the Lewes campus when her students researched the negative impact of plastic bags on the local environment.

“Plastic and plastic bags are the second-most common trash items on Delaware beaches,” according to project participant Taylor Deemer. (Cigarette butts are No. 1.) Research indicates that each year 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million seabirds die worldwide as the result of plastic debris, either by ingesting it or becoming entangled in it.

These and other alarming statistics prompted the Delaware Sea Grant program to help Dixson and her team turn their classroom discourse into action through an organized coalition of businesses and community leaders. Sea Grant, administered by UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, provided the initial funds to purchase reusable tote bags — made entirely from recycled plastic bottles — for distribution to participating businesses in downtown Lewes.

UD fashion students designed the eco-friendly bag with a logo that incorporates a horseshoe crab, a subtle reminder of how marine life in the Cape Henlopen region is endangered by plastic bags strewn along area beaches.

Each tote bag sells for $10, with all proceeds “recycled” toward the purchase of next year’s bags. “The program is self-sustaining and won’t have to rely on grants,” says Dixson.

Along with downtown merchants, UD and Sea Grant, the Businesses for Better Bags partnership — dubbed B3 for short — includes the Green Team of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, city officials and the Lewes Chamber of Commerce.

To support this initiative, look for the B3 logo on display at participating establishments. For more information about this project, visit


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