Last April, the University of Portland (UP) in Oregon became one of the first universities in the United States to ban plastic straws. And a number of other colleges and universities are following suit.
Colleges that invest in sustainability initiatives like plastic straw bans not only reduce waste, but also appeal to prospective students. “Today’s students, especially from Generation Z, have grown up in a world where sustainability is the norm, so they expect campuses to prioritize green initiatives,” says Michael Fischer, an associate director of research for EAB’s Facilities Forum.
More than half (63%) of students surveyed for the Princeton Review‘s 2018 “College Hopes & Worries Survey” reported that information about a college’s commitment to the environment would influence their application or enrollment decisions.
“Campus environment—how the campus looks and feels—is one of the most important factors prospective students consider when deciding where to enroll, and the institution’s sustainability investments significantly help to shape that image,” says Fischer.
Plastic straw bans aren’t the only way colleges can reduce waste and signal their commitment to sustainability.
Plastic straws and stirrers make up more than 7% of all plastic products in the environment. But with more than 8.8 million tons of plastic waste being dumped into oceans each year, plastic straws are just a small part of the problem. Here are two other plastic products that colleges should consider avoiding on campus, based on TED interviews with environmentalists and ocean experts.
The experts agree that single-use plastic products must go. “Restaurants, cafes, bars and businesses should stop giving out plastic straws, stirrers, lids, cups, utensils and bags—all of these so-called small items add up to a major plastic pollution crisis,” explains Dianna Cohen, co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Last July, Duke University banned the use of disposable plastics at all campus dining venues, according to a press release. Paper and biodegradable plant-based products will now replace plastic on Duke’s campus, which has already eliminated bleached paper products and Styrofoam.
“My thinking was, ‘Why stop at just straws, why not go a step further?'” explains Marcus Carson, assistant director of Duke Dining for Sustainability and Quality Assurance. “We have composting infrastructure and we have a pretty robust recycling infrastructure on campus. And there are compostable and recyclable alternatives for these products out there and the price point has come down significantly since when they were introduced. I thought it was a good time for Duke to stand as a leader in this space and make the full push.”
Besides the danger they pose to hungry sea turtles, plastic bags are simply unnecessary, the experts suggest. “Bags are killing countless sea mammals and birds every year,” explains National Geographic explorer-in-residence Enric Sala. “And for what? Our convenience?”
Pennsylvania State University has also implemented a program aimed at reducing plastic bag use at the university bookstore. If customers opt out of a plastic bag, they receive an EcoCoin, which represents a five-cent donation by the bookstore to a student philanthropy organization for sustainability.
“EcoCoin has so much potential at this school because it gives the community a choice to reduce their impact on the environment and further sustainable development through student philanthropies at no cost to them,” says Sam Anawalt, a recent Penn State grad and the program’s former director. “I think our community will show that they care about each other and our environment more than they do about plastic bags.”
As institutions look for more opportunities to improve their sustainability efforts, green revolving funds like those at Harvard University provide the necessary investment to reduce utility consumption, waste removal, or operating costs. Learn how Harvard relaunched their revolving loan program, and how the improved application process continues to evolve.
More on reducing campus waste
In April, the University of Portland in Oregon became the first university in the United States to ban plastic straws. And a number of other colleges and universities are following suit.
Some colleges have established thrift stores that give usable items destined for the landfill a chance at a new home. The initiatives help save the environment—and save students money.