Black Hills State University art students created an exhibit featuring the effects widely used plastic shopping bags have on the environment. Pictured from left to right, Nathanael Reitzel, an art education major from Rapid City; Ethan Engel, communications art major from Winner; Lacy Payne, art major from Rapid City; Ann Porter, BHSU associate professor of art;and Makena Peet, an art and graphic design communications major from Rapid City, stand next to the plastic bag installation.
Americans annually use and dispose of 100 billion plastic shopping bags; however, only 1-2 percent of these shopping bags are recycled. Some of these plastic bags are now hanging from the ceiling of Black Hills State University’s David B. Miller Yellow Jacket Student Union attached to photographs of the plastic bags in nature and facts on the effect these bags have on the environment.

The creatively displayed environmental messages are the work of art students in Ann Porter’s three-dimensional design class. The associate professor of art decided on the assignment after reading some statistics on the widely used plastic shopping bags.

“I saw a couple of sites with plastic bag facts, and I thought people need to know about this,” Porter said.

Porter encouraged her students to photograph the plastic bags in an outdoor setting. “I wanted it to be in the natural environment to make the message even clearer that there are these artificial items in the natural world.”

Each photo dramatically portrays the tremendous number of plastic bags used around the world. While each piece has an individual photo and fact the message sent is the same. “The power of the installation comes from everyone’s voice.”

People don’t always think of art as a way to illustrate an important message, Porter said. The project was two-fold with the first goal reinforcing BHSU’s role in encouraging sustainability, she said.

“Secondly, it was a way to figure out how you can make a specific point using art as a medium,” Porter said.

The plastic bag installation sends a strong message of sustainability that she hopes her students and everyone who views it recognizes. “I know it brought that message home to me,” she said.

Jane Klug, director of the student union, said a student recently walked past the display and, surprised at the facts presented, said she was going to take her reusable bag to get groceries from now on.

Next to the exhibit is a plastic bag recycling bin that the whole campus can use.  Last year, a group of BHSU business students sold reusable “green” bags to reduce the number of plastics bags used locally.