Every year, more than one tril­lion plastic bags are cir­cu­lated across the globe — roughly one mil­lion every minute. North­eastern stu­dents Kelly Benoit and Adrian Van are working to reduce that number, starting on Hunt­ington Avenue.

Benoit got inter­ested in reducing plastic-​​bag pol­lu­tion while working on co-​​op this fall at Envi­ron­ment Mass­a­chu­setts. The citizen-​​based envi­ron­mental advo­cacy orga­ni­za­tion aims to make Mass­a­chu­setts the first state to ban the use of plastic bags, and is working to con­struct a bill to ban non-​​compostable plastic bags, starting in gro­cery stores more than 5,000 square feet in size.

In her co-​​op posi­tion, Benoit is working to raise aware­ness of the envi­ron­mental prob­lems plastic bags cause and encourage Mass­a­chu­setts res­i­dents to take a stand. Just one bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade, and in that time, cre­ates pol­lu­tion and poses as an envi­ron­mental hazard to wildlife.

It’s crazy when you realize that some­thing we use for five min­utes can take hun­dreds of years to break down,” Benoit said.

But Benoit also saw an oppor­tu­nity to engage her North­eastern class­mates about this issue. So she teamed up with Van, the Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment Asso­ci­a­tion (SGA) rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Husky Envi­ron­mental Action Team (HEAT), and together, they are working to edu­cate stu­dents and raise aware­ness on campus. Ulti­mately, they hope to elim­i­nate the use of plastic bags campus-​​wide.

The stu­dents, both polit­ical sci­ence majors, said plastic bags are overused by busi­nesses such as gro­cery stores, retail shops and restau­rants. Yet, Benoit and Van said that many stu­dents are not aware of their harmful effects. HEAT focuses on envi­ron­mental sus­tain­ability by edu­cating and pro­moting energy-​​saving prac­tices to the North­eastern com­mu­nity. Van said the effort to ban plastic bags aligns with that mission.

Plastic bags are detri­mental to the envi­ron­ment. They con­t­a­m­i­nate our water and soil, pile up in our land­fills and emit an immense amount of carbon into our atmos­phere when they are pro­duced,” Van said.

Benoit and Van also plan to partner with other area intu­itions and orga­ni­za­tions to pro­mote the cause to the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion citywide.

Get­ting stu­dents involved in this issue is impor­tant because col­lec­tively, we can work together to make reusable bags a trend,” Benoit said. “‘Going Green’ is con­ta­gious, and by starting with the North­eastern com­mu­nity, we hope our efforts will catch on within the larger community.”

Northeastern’s own com­mit­ment to sus­tain­ability — one of the university’s top research themes — is evi­dent across a wide range of pro­grams and prac­tices. As part of the “Be Green” ini­tia­tive, Dining Ser­vices has switched to 100 per­cent recy­clable, biodegrad­able bags at all campus loca­tions. Reusable bags are also sold across campus at all retail loca­tions and HEAT dis­trib­utes free reusable bags at campus events and meetings.