Guest Blog: The Road to a Campus Plastic Bag Ban
This guest blog features Jake Lyonfields, the undergraduate Student Union Executive Advisor for Sustainability at Washington University in St. Louis, and Student Union Senator Ryan Halvorsen. Together they're working with the university's Office of Sustainability to push for a campus-wide plastic bag ban. Since we ran the October 2012 AASHE Bulletin story about the Student Union Senate passing a resolution that called for numerous campus businesses to replace plastic bags with paper ones, Jake and Ryan have been working hard to make this vision a reality. Here is an update from Jake and Ryan on their recent successes:
Pictured here from left to right: Jennifer Chan, Jake Lyonfields, Ryan Halvorsen, Orma Ravindranath and Nancy Yang.
During the 2012-2013 school year we passed a Student Union Senate resolution calling for an end to the distribution of plastic bags in campus stores. The year ended with little achieved in the way of policy changes toward this ban, though we did rebrand our Another Step Towards Sustainability initiative as a public education campaign called Tote Green. This spring 2013 campaign, made possible with the help of fellow students Orma Ravindranath, Nancy Yang and Jennifer Chan, was aimed at educating people about the importance of choosing not to take a plastic bag when buying items at campus stores. Our main campus bookstore, run by Follett, and our "Bear Necessities" store, run by the Washington University Women's Society, were very willing partners in this process. During this same semester, we also received Commitment to Action recognition at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) for our work to ban plastic bags on campus.
Still, we never lost sight of the policy objectives outlined in our Student Union Senate resolution, and we decided that our best bet would be to spearhead a pilot plastic bag ban program. We reached out to our campus's Dining Services team and food service provider Bon Appetit to gauge the feasibility of implementing a plastic bag pilot at two Bon Appetit campus grocery store locations. Bon Appetit was extremely receptive, and in early October we launched the first half of the pilot, removing plastic bags from their Paws & Go campus grocery store. Included in the pilot was the option for customers to buy reusable tote bags branded with the Tote Green and Office of Sustainability logos. Since the implementation of this pilot, no single-use disposable bags (plastic OR paper) have been distributed in this store to customers.
This pilot was an immense success, due to the education and engagement that our student sustainability community did with the student body in advance of the pilot's implementation, and thanks to the advertising that Bon Appetit and Dining Services established in the weeks leading up to the pilot.
We carefully monitored students' feedback regarding pilot's implementation, and we were able to determine that the vast majority of students did not feel strongly about the pilot's implementation one way or the other. This fact, as well as the fact that we avoiding distributing roughly 750 single-use disposable plastic bags within the first month of the pilot, made us feel confident that our decision to implement the pilot was a good one.
We implemented the second half the pilot when the spring 2014 semester started. Again, we removed plastic bags from circulation at the second campus grocery store and began selling Tote Green bags there as well. Like the first pilot, this change was met with few strong reactions.
"...we have reduced plastic bag use associated with Bon Appetit's campus operations by over 90 percent. Several of the Tote Green bags have been sold to those who needed them, and the vast majority of students seem to accept the plastic bag bans at our two campus grocery stores as a fact of campus life and of the sustainability culture here."
The results so far? At this point, we have reduced plastic bag use associated with Bon Appetit's campus operations by over 90 percent. Several of the Tote Green bags have been sold to those who needed them, and the vast majority of students seem to accept the plastic bag bans at our two campus grocery stores as a fact of campus life and of the sustainability culture here. Though plastic bags continue to be distributed at other campus stores, we have made unprecedented steps in reducing waste through the implementation of this pilot. Our campus community’s leadership has made Washington University in St. Louis the first university in the nation to voluntarily take steps to end the distribution of plastic bags at campus stores.
If you have questions about how we approached campus departments with this plan, went about the marketing, or anything else, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We'd love to hear your own experiences, questions, or advice for similar endeavors that you are involved in.
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