“By January 21, 2020, at the start of the spring semester here at KSC, no single use plastic bags will be provided for guests at either Lloyd’s Marketplace or Hoot-N-Scoot dining facilities,” according to a memorandum sent by the Director of Campus Life Jennifer Ferrell.
Ferrell met with representatives from Chartwells Dining Services, Campus Executive Chef Troy Bellot and Marketing Director Caitlin Howell, on Wednesday, October 23, to discuss sustainability and AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) ratings for the college.
Director of Sustainability Cary Gaunt, Recycling Coordinator Matthew Bacon and two seniors and Eco-Reps Julia Yates and Madelyn Thomas were also invited to present a proposal.
Yates and Thomas both presented a written proposal asking Chartwells to stop buying and distributing plastic bags from their dining outlets starting spring semester. Both are interns for the Sustainability Office which is something that is new to Keene State this year.
“For the first time this year, the environmental studies program, ENST, developed a new class. It’s an internship class for students who are interested in getting careers in environmental or sustainability fields,” said Gaunt. “We ended up with six students who are interns in the Sustainability Office, which is awesome, and each of the interns wanted to take on a discrete project that was going to help move sustainability forward on campus.”
For their internship, both Yates and Thomas said they wanted to help Keene State earn AASHE points and become more sustainable. One way to earn points from AASHE is single-use plastic bans. The idea to ban plastic bags came up last summer after the Eco- Reps attempted a single-use plastic water bottle ban across campus that was never fully implemented. From there they conducted research and collected information that would help show that the ban would be effective.
“We looked into a few things,” said Yates. “One of the big players was obviously environmental impacts of plastic, so we did a life cycle analysis of plastic bags looking into CO2 emissions that are created when they are produced and transported and the pollution they leave behind.”
Plastic bags are usually made from polyethylene, which comes from natural gas and petroleum. Petroleum contributes to air pollution, acid rain and can cause human illnesses.
Bacon said that besides their chemical makeup, plastic materials are also hard to recycle. He described the process of baling, which includes machines used to condense recycled material into bales for recycling and transportation. However, the city of Keene does not have a baling station which requires transportation of materials to recycling plants.
Bacon also said that plants are afraid of recycling plastic material because of the potential damage it can cause to their machines.
“When plastic is being recycled it’s pulped down so it’s shredded into teeny, tiny little pellets of plastic, so then that could be melted and recast into whatever. When you put plastic bags into those shredding machines the fingers can get caught up with the plastic wrap and the machine breaks; it winds up becoming a process for the facility,” Bacon said. “This a random number, but say every ten yards of plastic bottles you have to shut the machine off, get all the plastic wraps out, restart the machine and reprime the line. It’s hours of work wasted on good time, time that could be used to recycle, being wasted on labor costs.”
In relation to the purchase price of the plastic bags, Howell said Chartwells spends $1,608 on plastics bags in Hoot-N-Scoot and $205 in Lloyd’s Marketplace per year. Ferrell added that there is some discussion on what to use the savings for, including reusable bag purchases.
According to Ferrell, the student’s proposal showed well thought out research and planning and was something that the administration was waiting for. Ferrell oversees the dining contract and is the campus client for Keene State which allowed her to approve the proposal on the spot and push it forward. Ferrell said the idea had come up before, but there was never a student initiative for it.
Originally, Yates and Thomas wanted the alternative for the plastic bags to be paper bags, but throughout their research they found that paper bags were not a suitable alternative due to financial reasons and their environmental impact.
According to cleanwateraction.org, about ten percent more energy is used to produce a paper bag versus a plastic one and about four times as much water. The production of paper bags contributes to deforestation and habitat destruction and, due to paper bags being heavier than plastic, it requires more fuel to transport shipments.
“It was not what we expected,” said Thomas. “At that point we were like ‘oh, what are we going to do?’ We might have to rethink what we are doing here, but we found a way around that.”
According to Gaunt, the Eco-Reps plan on setting up a bag collection located in the Student Center for anyone willing to donate their reusable bags and would later be set up into bag share program, open to all.
Accessibility for students was also a main point in the conversation and the proposal.
“We would never totally get rid of some option for someone who needed it; that will always be in place. We always need to have something like that available for folks who absolutely need it, for an accessibility reason or purpose,” said Ferrell.
Associate Director of Disability Services Lisa David and Assistive Technology Coordinator Melanie Morel for the Office of Disability Services (ODS) said when they first heard about the proposal they had some concerns, but after reading it didn’t find issues.
“Once you read the proposal the answer is ‘no.’ I don’t see it being impactful for students with disabilities because they do offer an alternative to the plastic bags,” said David.
Morel suggested, however, that there should be a few reusable bags in each location reserved for students who need access to them. She said the only problem that could come up is if there were no bags to give out to students with disabilities, but putting a few to the side and on reserve would eliminate the problem completely.
“We don’t want things to not progress because of the fear of possibly leaving someone out, but at the same time there’s usually a way to accommodate that, whatever that potential issue may be,” said David.
Yates, Thomas, Gaunt and Bacon hope that the ban will promote change on campus and in students’ everyday lifestyles.
“If they [students] get a reusable bag to use here maybe they’ll take it to the grocery store when they shop or change other things in their own lives and not just what they do on campus, but when they move off campus keep those things up,” said Thomas.
“Hopefully within a few years this is what is just going to be expected,” said Yates.
Jack Hanson can be contacted at