Divesting from Plastic for Lake Champlain

By Elizabeth Lee, Director of Education and Interpretation

As the Museum wraps up 2020, our priority as an organization keeps coming back to sustainability. Financial, programmatic, material, and ethical questions have driven our decision-making as we protect our organization from the challenges of the year. In our reflections, we decided one way in which we can grow towards a sustainable future is by making changes around our use of microplastics in our programs, exhibits, and retail store.

We believe in learning from the lake, and it’s clear from data and from personal experience that microplastics are a serious problem in our watershed. The plastics in the lake derive from discarded trash, detritus from fishing and boating, and from large and small plastic products in our upstream water use that flow through storm drains and wastewater treatment plants.

We’ve begun the process of critically assessing our own contribution to the plastic in the lake, and recognized that our gift shop has been a retail pass-through for a lot of small plastic objects. While we haven’t found any of the toys we sell in the lake, we’ve decided to change our retail direction. We recently emptied our inventory of plastic toys in order to make way for products that are made of less harmful material, are manufactured close to home, and intentionally point kids who play with toys from our store in the direction of lake stewardship.

Rather than send the entire pile of discarded inventory to the landfill, we recognized that the toys have economic value and might mean a lot to children who want some fun. A staff member arranged to turn the products over to KidStructive Fun in South Burlington, where it will be added to their inventory and hopefully become gifts for youngsters to give or receive. These items will stay in the plastic stream for now, but going forward we are making a commitment to try to pass less through our retail shop and keep looking at ways to bring non-toxic materials to all our work.

We recognize this is just a small step. The decision to divest as much as we can of products that could contribute to the watershed’s plastic problem is the easy part.  Changing our own plastic use, and finding replacements for both the ordinary and the specialty items we use is far more difficult. We’re just getting started. Look for more stories in 2021 as we figure it out.

Wishing you all clean water now and throughout the year. Happy winter.