// By Wendy Byard //
“You’re never too young to change the world” is an oft-repeated mantra. However, for farm girl Bri Hartwig, these are more than just words. Hartwig, who recently graduated with high honors from Mott Community College, grew up immersed in nature. Now she is helping right the world through educating others. Over the past year, the environmentalist has presented her research to various audiences, aiming to create awareness about ocean pollution and encourage helpful practices. This Hadley resident seems wise beyond her 20 years.
“Nature is divine,” Hartwig says. “It is a blessing. A gift. But we must give back.
Hartwig knows a bit about nature. She shares her farm with eight cows, three cats, two dogs, four horses, a pond full of catfish and four snakes – two of which share her bedroom! Spice and Pablo, two ball pythons, might scare or even repulse some. Yet, Hartwig tenderly cares for them and sees their worth as living creatures.
“My passion for the environment came from living where I do,” Hartwig says. “I’m surrounded by plants and animals of all different kinds, and I’ve always worked outside. So I’ve always had a passion for what we need to do to take care of land in Genesee County and here in Hadley.”
Hartwig, who earned a 4.0 GPA at Mott College while earning two associate’s degrees, was in Mott Honors College and Phi Theta Kappa, served on the executive board of the National Society for Leadership and won a major Mott College writing contest. In April, Hartwig took first in the 2018 Anna Bradley research essay contest with her paper on pesticides.
As the daughter of a farmer with over 500 acres of corn, alfalfa, soybeans, oats, wheat, hay and straw, she knows firsthand the necessity for pesticides. However, her experience led her to question their impact on the planet. At the beginning of her winning paper, Hartwig mused: “We all must eat; we all must breathe. Every day, we make choices that determine how we do so.”
“I have lived on my father’s conventional farm my whole life,” she says. “Our income has been incredibly blessed through his career, and we have always experienced a plentiful harvest. . . Farming with pesticides is all I’ve ever known. . . But I have become aware of many upsetting factors regarding conventional farming.” In her paper, she noted that federal agencies have connected pesticides to Parkinson’s disease, depression, lung cancer, allergic asthma, diabetes, thyroid disease, colorectal and pancreatic cancer, melanoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In that same Mott writing contest, in addition to winning first place, Hartwig took third. That research paper focused on ocean pollution. Additionally, it placed in the top eight in a statewide contest. The Liberal Arts Network for Development chose Hartwig’s paper from many community college submissions for its Student Scholar competition. As a result, Hartwig presented her research on ocean pollution – plastics and oil spills, among other forms – at the 2018 LAND Conference in Muskegon.
In that paper, she wrote, “We can no longer consider our oceans as simple bodies of water. They are water bodies congested and complexed with contaminants, debris and harmful substances. Animals are left helpless to the pollutants entering their only home, suffering in toxicity, numbers, and well-being … [I]t is evident ocean pollution does not leave humans unscathed. Our economies and well-being are jeopardized by these ways of living … Without alteration and intervention, pollution will further degrade our world’s vital natural environment.”
Hartwig’s paper noted that “oil spills caused by tankers, oil rigs and pipelines contribute 15.5 percent to total ocean pollution.” Further, Corexit, the dispersant used to break down oil spills, is also toxic. It harms marine life. Winds blow the toxin inland, where it then harms human beings. Closer to home, in April the Coast Guard estimated over 600 gallons of mineral oil was released into the Straits of Mackinac when two electrical wires were cut. The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system in the world and provide drinking water for more than 35 million people.
With regard to plastics, Hartwig’s research reveals that billions of tons of garbage, mostly plastics, flows into the world’s oceans every year. Single-use items, such as grocery bags, water bottles, straws, diapers, razors, food wrappers, yogurt containers, microbeads in beauty products and many more products, congest our waterways, polluting beaches and harming wildlife, the ecosystem and human beings. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – an area where plastics amass due to the North Pacific Current – contains a massive accumulation of plastic bits.
“No matter what coastline the plastics come from, strong ocean currents carry the unbreakable materials all over the world. We are using everlasting materials to make items we use for only a second,” Hartwig says, “but last hundreds of lifetimes in oceans. We need to be fully aware of the devastating impact our trash is having upon our oceans. We need to realize that what we do to our oceans comes full circle. If we expect fish to live in our plastics, then we can expect it back on our plates.”
Hartwig also presented her ocean pollution findings in April at the Flint Student Research Conference. Held at the Riverfront Event Center, it was attended by students from Kettering, University of Michigan-Flint and Mott College.
“If we continue our rate of plastic consumption, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by the year 2050,” Hartwig warns. “Plastic waste is having the same effect in our Great Lakes. Microplastics are being found in rivers leading to our lakes and the lakes themselves.” According to research from the Rochester Institute of Technology, almost 22 million pounds of plastic enters the Great Lakes annually.
Yet, there is hope. “We can practice greener methods of living and reduce our carbon footprint in the seas,” Hartwig explains. Greener methods include saying no to single-use plastics or recycling them and saying yes to natural fabrics, plastic-free cosmetics, reusable water bottles and reusable/biodegradable bags. The Oceanic Society also suggests supporting bans on single-use plastics, participating in local waterway and beach cleanups, avoiding microbeads (polyethylene) found in some toothpastes and scrubs and supporting organizations addressing ocean pollution.
“Scientists are overwhelmed by the lack of purity remaining in the oceans,” Hartwig says. “But all is not lost. Our ecosystems are being damaged, but as of now, they are still working, and they can heal. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen action by action and community by community.”
To learn more, visit oceanicsociety.org, nationalgeographic.com, greenpeace.org or the many other organizations devoted to our oceans and waterways.
8 tips for living with less plastic:
1. Bring your own shopping bag
2. Carry a reusable water bottle
3. Bring your own cup
4. Pack lunch in reusable containers
5. Say no to disposable straws & cutlery
6. Skip the plastic produce bag
7. Store leftovers in glass jars
8. Share these tips with your friends