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Charly Haley , Published March 04 2013

Area schools help River Keepers reduce plastic use by turning old tees into new totes

FARGO – By transforming old T-shirts into tote bags, high school students here are helping a local environmental organization raise awareness.

In 2008, River Keepers started collecting old T-shirts and repurposing them into bags. In recent years, students from Fargo and West Fargo schools have jumped on board.

“It’s overall a great project for kids,” said Karen Eriksmoen, the environmental club adviser at Fargo North High School.

To transform the shirts, students cut off the sleeves, which makes two handles, and sew the bottom of the shirt together forming the bottom of the bag. The neck serves as the bag’s opening.

The Fargo North environmental club has a T-shirt drive each year and normally collects more than 200 shirts. This year’s drive just finished, and the students will start sewing bags next week, Eriksmoen said.

Some of the kids didn’t know how to sew before working on the project, so they’re able to gain that practical skill as well, she said.

There are about 30 kids involved in the club, which also participates in service projects such as adopting a highway, Eriksmoen said.

West Fargo High School added a contemporary sewing class this year that works the River Keepers project into its curriculum.

The River Keepers started the shirts-to-bags project to raise awareness about the impact plastic bags have on the environment.

When doing roadside cleanup, “we find a lot of plastic bags,” said Christine Laney, project coordinator with River Keepers. “It’s hard to get that plastic out.”

The group gives away the T-shirt bags, along with instructions on how to make them, at community events.

“Sometimes they don’t even take our bags,” Laney said. “They say, ‘Oh, I have the perfect shirt to make into a bag.’ ”

Old T-shirts can be donated at any time to the River Keepers office at 325 7th St. S., No. 201, Fargo.

The Fargo North environmental club is also still taking shirts for this year’s drive, Eriksmoen said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701) 235-7311