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A group of Wauwatosa students is looking to make a difference in their community, one bag at a time.

The group, comprised of six students from Wauwatosa East High School and the Wauwatosa Virtual Academy, is part of the international Community Problem Solving competition, a program that challenges kids to make positive impacts in their communities.

The local students — without any faculty adviser or base school — are on a mission to cut down on plastic pollution in Wauwatosa through the distribution of reusable alternatives and community education. The team recently took first place at the state competition held in Green Lake last month and is busy preparing for the International Future Problem Solving Competition held in Michigan next month.

The team's involvement with the plastic bags dates back to November 2014 when they landed on research that showed how damaging plastic bags can be to the earth's environment.

Feeling inspired, the team made appearances at the Tosa Farmers Market and Tosa Night Out, gave presentations around the community and spoke with 88.9 FM Radio Milwaukee. The team partnered with area grocery stores to produce 500 canvas bags that the students have been able to distribute along the way.

In order to pull off the project, the students had to learn about business and money management. They opened a bank account, set up an online fundraising page and solicited sponsorships from local businesses to fund their purchase of reusable bags.

The final product, eye-catching, green canvas totes, feature a hand-drawn image of a fist clutching a bag with the words 'Bring the Bag' written on it.

'We want people to think,' on whether or not to use plastic bags, said Mollee Albinger, a sophomore at Wauwatosa East. The group encourages shoppers to keep a number of canvas bags in their vehicles or at home so that plastic bags are used less and less.

If plastic bags are necessary, said Albinger, customers should recycle them appropriately. According to plasticfilmrecycling.org, Pick 'n Save, 1717 N. Mayfair Road, accepts plastic bags from the public.

Marika Marklin, also a sophomore at the high school, said her family keeps about five bags in their vehicle and will run outside to retrieve the totes if they reach the checkout point and realize they've forgotten to bring them.

The team was ecstatic when it took first place at the state competition last month, where members presented their work, including a scrapbook detailing their progress, to judges, said teammate Emma Hudson-Mairet. She added the most rewarding part is when someone they've educated in the community about the harms of plastic pollution educates another person, spreading even more awareness.

Members also are looking forward to presenting next month in Michigan alongside other problem solvers from across the globe. But, as Albinger pointed out, this project was never about the glory, but instead about making a positive difference in their community.

The team looks to tackle another community issue again next year.

To learn more about the local Community Problem Solving team and for tips on how to cut back on plastic bag use visit bit.ly/1SGw7RA.

How to Help

Help the Wauwatosa Community Problem Solving team attend the international competition by donating online at gofundme.com/bringthebag. Money will help fund travel and registration fees.

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