Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Looking for a Lesson Plan? 3/28/18

Whether you are thinking about participating for the first time, or have done the project for many years, there is a fantastic lesson plan that has something helpful for everyone:

Protecting Our Precious Planet: Sharing the Message of Earth Day

Folwell Elementary in Rochester, MN
The lesson plan was written by Melissa Weimer from Waterford, Michigan - for ReadWriteThink, which is a part of the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and the ILA (International Literacy Association).
Looking for learning standards for the Earth Day Groceries Project? They are listed for all 50 states. 

Besides linking back to the Project website for various parts of the lesson plan, she has developed wonderful new materials that can be printed out and used in the classroom, like:

One of the most rewarding parts of running this Project for 25 years has been the opportunity to meet so many fantastic teachers, always willing to share - and always passionate about teaching, their students, and protecting our environment.

In 2002, I did an interview for Reading Online, part of the International Reading Association, with Jean Carmody, an art teacher in Rhode Island:

You can find the above links on the Project website, at

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you are thinking about participating in the Earth Day Groceries Project, but you're not quite sure, or you have some questions, here's a great place to start (this is also on the Project web site):

Q. What is the Earth Day Groceries Project?
A. The Earth Day Groceries Project is an easy, cost-free environmental awareness project that teams up youth and grocers to spread the message of Earth Day. To participate, teachers simply borrow paper grocery bags from a local grocery store. Students decorate the bags with environmental messages about reuse, recycling, wildlife, etc. The bags are then returned to the grocery store, and on Earth Day, April 22 of each year, customers receive their groceries— along with the message that kids care about our environment— in the decorated bags.

Q. How do I participate?
A. To participate, follow these four simple steps:
1. Borrow Paper Bags. Contact a local grocery store that uses paper grocery bags. See if the manager will let you "borrow" enough bags so that each student in your school can decorate one. Let the manager know about the project and its environmental education message, of course!
2. Decorate Paper Bags. Have students decorate the bags with the name of their school, friendly environmental messages, pictures of the earth, or a favorite natural resource. Make them into works of art!
Discovery School in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico
3. Deliver Paper Bags. Before Earth Day (April 22) return the decorated bags to your grocery store (with many thanks to the manager!). On Earth Day, shoppers receive their groceries--along with the message that kids care about our environment-- in the decorated bags.
4. Report Your Participation. Visit the project website and fill out the short report form, so your bags will count toward the international tally. 

Q. How did this project get started?
A. Mark Ahlness, a now retired third grade teacher from Arbor Heights Elementary School in Seattle, Washington, (founder of the Earth Day Groceries Project and this Web site) came across the idea of decorating paper grocery bags for Earth Day in a  summer workshop for teachers in 1991. In the spring of 1994, working from his home computer, Mark distributed information about the project to two listservs (Ednet and Kidsphere), and invited others to join in. That first year, 43 schools sent him email reporting that more than 10,000 students from across the U.S. and Canada had decorated over 13,000 Earth Day bags. Mark developed this Web site to help promote the project and environmental awareness.

Q. What are the costs?
A. This is a cost free project. No money or special materials required— just time to meet with your local grocer to borrow a supply of paper grocery bags for your students to decorate, and time to return the decorated bags to the grocery in time for Earth Day (April 22 each year).

Q. What are the benefits?
A. This project is designed to enhance students’ environmental knowledge, along with skills in art, computer science, geography, math and science. It helps educate and empower youth to make a difference in their communities. Participating teachers have reported a strong positive response from the local community, the establishment of a positive relationship with the local grocery store, and often the attention of local media.

Q. Who can participate?
A. Any group of students that wants to promote environmental awareness. Classes, schools, Day Care centers, Scout troops, 4-H Clubs, church groups and art clubs have all participated. The project has also been implemented at community events for Earth Day (April 22), Arbor Day, America Recycles Day (Nov. 15), and Martin Luther King Day.
Hermitage Presbyterian Church in Hermitage, TN

Q. What do we get for participating?
A. You can download a Certificate of Participation after registering your report. Your groups’ report will be featured on the site, and your bags will be added to this year’s national tally. If you contact your local media, you may get some press coverage too. And don’t forget the reward of being part of an international effort to promote environmental awareness!

Q. Who sponsors this Project?
A. The Earth Day Groceries Project is managed online and sponsored by its founder, Mark Ahlness, a former third grade teacher at Arbor Heights Elementary School in Seattle, Washington. Individuals and organizations can help support the project by becoming a sponsor.

Q. Who endorses this?
A. Just about every environmental and educational organization that learns about it! The Earth Day Groceries Project has been featured in Weekly Reader, Science & Children magazine, Copy Cat magazine, and many local and national newspapers. It has been promoted to teachers via Project Learning Tree and the Society for Developmental Education’s national teacher conferences. The International Educational and Resources Network has helped to spread the word internationally.

Q. What is the project’s goal?
A. To increase environmental awareness, to educate and empower youth to make a difference in their communities. And of course, to involve as many schools and students as possible—to start a movement, if you will!

Q. Where can I learn about similar hands-on environmental awareness projects?
A. Check out these cool Web sites for similar fun, free educational environmental projects:
Earth’s 911—
Kids For A Clean Environment —
Q. Why is the project managed online?
A. The Internet allows students and teachers from across the globe to quickly and easily exchange ideas and information, and to work together to promote environmental awareness.

Q. How should we decorate our bags?
A. For starters, take a look at some of the beautiful decorated bags on the Pictures page. For other cool ideas, check out the suggestions at Educational Support and Starter Kit. Deciding what to put on the bags is up to you. Be positive and creative. Use crayons or markers to draw pictures of the earth (use a coffee can lid to trace the circle; show the different continents). Or create catchy Earth Day slogans such as "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." Draw your favorite animal, body of water, mountain or type of tree. Draw pictures of the different types of recycling activities. Remember to check your spelling. Also, it’s okay to include first names on the bags, but NO last names, as the bags will be handed out to strangers.
Jefferson School in North Arlington, NJ

Q. What are the results from past years?
A. You can read all of the reports from 1994-2018 at the Read Reports page. Results from the early years are available in chart form at Facts and Figures. Finally, there is a summary of every single year on the Report Archives section of our Web site.

Q. What are your plans for the future?
A. This is an annual project. Earth Day is April 22 every year.  We'll be here.

Q. What if I can't find a local store that uses paper bags?
A. If you can't use paper bags, you can have your students decorate individual fliers, or even bookmarks, which can be handed out to shoppers or inserted in their shopping bags.  These will be counted in the project tally, so do send in your report!

Friday, March 16, 2018

How to Participate 3/16/18

Here's a brief rundown on what's involved in participating in the Earth Day Groceries Project.

  1. Locate a local grocery store that uses paper bags. Explain the project to the manager, and ask if you can "borrow" enough bags so each student in your school or classroom can decorate one. 
  2. Distribute the bags throughout your school, and explain the project to classrooms who would like to participate.
  3. Give students enough time - and guidance - so they can create beautiful artwork and environmental messages on their bags.
  4. Return the decorated bags to the store before Earth Day (April 22), and ask that the store distribute the bags to shoppers on Earth Day.
  5. Send in a brief report - on the website, Facebook, or even this blog, via a comment - to share how your project went. 
That's it. You can find much more detailed information and helpful suggestions on the website at Get Started.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Brief History of the Project

(This reflection is written with a sad but grateful nod to Stephen Hawking, on his passing)


The Earth Day Groceries Project began during the infancy of the world wide web. It started out as an  email activity in the spring of 1994, but by August, 1994, it had a web site. Well, sort of.

When I decided to try and develop a website for my elementary school in the summer of 1994, there was literally just a handful of schools worldwide with websites. As a matter of fact, it felt to me as though you really wouldn't put a school on the web without being able to say what was outstanding, or unique, about it.

This graphic was on the very first website for my old school. The Project was the school's byline, its reason for being on the web. That was August 14, 1994. The Project's name still needed some work. The main content of the website was a compilation of the Project's emails, and that version of the website is preserved, and still working, here.

By October of 1994, the school website had evolved,and the project had its new name - still featured on the school website graphic  That site is archived here.

The Project remained on the school website through the 1999 school year, even running an ad, proceeds going to the cost of upgrading the Project, and to school tech needs.


For the first three years, I compiled all email reports and sent them to all participants in large email installments. When it became clear I could no longer keep up with sending hundreds of participating schools different email installments, I converted them all into web documents (coding by hand), and put them on the website.


In 2000, I moved the Earth Day Groceries Project to its current location, where it runs multiple databases to automate the adding, retrieving, and sorting of information. No more email, thank goodness. Now, if the pictures had been automated, that would have been something! More on that in another post.


The early 1990s was an exciting time to be online with other educators, exchanging ideas on educational listservs, like Ednet, and Kidsphere.

In 1993 I tried decorating grocery bags with my school, and it was a huge success. It was such a perfect, easy way to empower kids in their communities, such a great way to make a difference in environmental awareness.

I wanted other schools to join in,  to make it bigger, even make it something that belonged to my school, but I could not figure out how to do that, and somehow - control it. My wife set me straight right away when she said I simply had to share the idea. That was all. Give it away.

She was right of course, so I did just that - shared the idea. I simply acted as a facilitator for those who participated, and I provided a central location for anyone who wanted to share their stories.


Every year, I hear from several people saying their school/organization has been decorating grocery bags for Earth Day for many years, and they just learned there was a website!

This Project has legs, and it will continue to grow and spread - because it is easy, free, meaningful, and it carries a powerful message.

I hope your school or organization can join in this year. Happy Earth Day!

Mark Ahlness, founder  - The Earth Day Groceries Project

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Blog is Back! 3/12/2018

Yes, the Earth Day Groceries Project Blog is back in business. Approaching a 25th Anniversary means you pull out all the stops!

We've always had a website, and a Facebook Page starting in the early 2000s. - but the blog hasn't been used much.

But times have changed, and this medium increases the potential reach, to many more people, so here we go.

This blog will be consistently active through the end of April, 2018, with a new post coming pretty much every day, so sign up in the "Follow by Email" spot on the side or bottom. (Mobile users,  go to  "View web version" or "Desktop"). No more than one post per day - and you can always cancel your subscription.

The goal is simply to spread the word, to encourage as many schools and organizations as possible to join in. More on that in another post.

Meanwhile, share this post as widely as you can. Many thanks!

Mark Ahlness, founder  - The Earth Day Groceries Project