Student-led project eliminates plastic waste – Northern Iowan

On-campus businesses are now plastic bag-free thanks to the Student Sustainability Committee

An idea that was once circulating before the pandemic has now become a reality: UNI businesses on campus will no longer use plastic bags.

In the fall of 2019, the student sustainability committee reached out to UNI Dining, which manages all retail stores on campus, with the idea of ​​eliminating plastic waste. They wanted to try to reduce the amount of plastic used by students and staff by replacing all plastic bags with paper or reusable bags on campus.

He first started by surveying the campus to find out what other people think about the use of plastic. Among other things, they learned about students’ interest in environmental issues and support for initiatives to reduce waste on campus. The students on the committee then saw an opportunity to have an impact with their idea. The project was ready to launch in the spring of 2020, then everything was stopped by COVID-19. The band decided to put the project on hold due to the pandemic.

The project was brought back to late last fall. They revisited the subject and everyone was very receptive. The students who run the student green fund worked with Dining and Retail to come up with a plan to give reusable bags to every student on campus. With this, they would reduce the use of plastic in these places.

They considered the pros and cons of the project before embarking on it. They spent time doing the math and looking at the number of bags actually used in a year, which was an “incredibly low number” according to Eric O’Brien, the university’s director of sustainability. They discovered that most students on campus carry a bag with them and often do not use the plastic bags at retail outlets. However, they knew they would need paper bags in some places in case someone didn’t take a reusable bag with them.

The project was funded by the Student Sustainability Committee, Food and Retail Services, and the Recycling and Reuse Center. Although the students originally came up with the idea, help from other departments kept the project moving forward. The project would not have seen the light of day without the collaboration.

This project was not only a good change for the environment, but also for the students of the committee. Some projects of this committee are behind the scenes and sometimes go unnoticed by students.

O’Brien said, “It’s been a good talking point to discuss this and have conversations with the students. We were able to use it as a springboard to other topics related to environmental elements, but also to certain social responsibilities. »

O’Brien continued, “There’s a lot of different directions this could have thrown us in…It’s nice to have something visible like this that we can point to and say ‘Hey, we’re doing this, and plus did you know that we do these five, six, seven other things that impact your everyday life on campus that you might not see because they’re so behind the scenes.

They are always looking for new ideas for different projects to impact the campus experience. Despite having limited funding, students are committed to putting their plans into motion. They want to start projects that students would like to see on campus. If students have ideas, there is a website to fund open ideas.

O’Brien continued, “There’s a lot of different directions this could have thrown us in…It’s nice to have something visible like this that we can point to and say ‘Hey, we’re doing this, and plus did you know that we do these five, six, seven other things that impact your everyday life on campus that you might not see because they’re so behind the scenes.

They are always looking for new ideas for different projects to impact the campus experience. Despite having limited funding, students are committed to putting their plans into motion. They want to start projects that students would like to see on campus.

For more information on UNI sustainability and the Green Fund, visit sustainable.uni.edu/sustainability-engagement-committee.

Bryce K. Locke