Speakers share ways to lessen plastic waste on campus

Photo courtesy of Ramapo College, Flickr

The Bergen County area is facing environmental threats with the ever-growing plastic waste epidemic in our forests. Ramapo’s 1STEP invited Post Landfill Action Network, or PLAN, campus coordinators Chris Kane and Adina Spertus Melhus to enlighten Ramapo students on ways to keep our campus a plastic-free environment.

This Tuesday, 1STEP, or Students Together for Environmental Progress, and interested students congregated in ASB 230 to hear what the PLAN members had to say about minimizing the use and disposal of plastic products on campus. PLAN is a student-run organization working to “inform students about the waste crisis and equip them with the necessary skills and resources to implement solutions to waste in their campus communities” according to their website postlandfill.org.

They began their presentation with a picture from the University of New Hampshire. The image depicted a dumpster overflowing with objects like couches, chairs, appliances and clothing. This scenario is not unlike the ones that are seen at Ramapo outside campus dorms at the end of each year. Kane and Melhus summarized that there is too much viable waste disposed within campus communities.

As Kane put it, this is “a social and environmental justice issue.”

The University of New Hampshire and PLAN created a project they call “Trash or Treasure.” The teams began reselling the waste back to the community and students in New Hampshire, which not only minimized the environmental effects of throwing out so many reusable items, but also presented an affordable option for those not able to pay full price for perfectly good items.

The PLAN members presented ways in which to avoid using plastic. The first was to remove it from the psyche of consumer culture. They explained that companies create products like iPhones, lightbulbs and clothing, to break or go out of style after multiple uses. This is a challenging obstacle to overcome in society, yet it is the core of plastic consumer culture.

Melhus stated that according to a recent study, “by 2050, 99 percent of seabirds will have undigested waste,” resonating in their stomachs.

The chemicals emitted from the plastic thrown away daily into landfills and oceans becomes ingested into the very wildlife humans consume. Therefore we are commonly consuming these toxins as well.

Although there are measures taken to dispose of plastic waste in somewhat safe ways, these disposal systems require hefty amounts of energy that use petroleum resources and therefore are not the best option. For example, incinerating waste to generate energy in order to power electronics, produces toxins and ash that will get disposed in landfills, counteracting the measures taken to get rid of the problem.

Why target college campuses to solve this colossal complication with society?

“Campuses are an awesome opportunity because they’re like a microcosm of society,” Kane said.

They function just like the real world and are filled with young people willing to make a difference for the sake of their own futures.

Toward the end of the presentation, Kane and Melhus called the audience to take action. They listed ways in which Ramapo students can end the overuse of plastic on campus. They discussed regulatory change within the local community and attached links to sites such as plasticbagbanreport.com and chicobag.com, which are organizations working to end the one time use of plastic shopping bags.

They also spoke of industry changes that students can fight for, such as redesigning regulations on plastic production, or implementing innovative packaging that would eliminate or reduce plastic usage.

Campus ideas to minimize plastic waste at Ramapo hit closer to home. The PLAN members offered steps and ideas for students to work with dining services to have reusable food products in the cafes, or to make it an option for those who are willing to help out.

Ramapo College student, Paul Lannelli said the ideas, “seem to be really easy to implement on campus. People think that sustainable behaviors require extremely difficult change, but in reality, there are many easy and effective solutions.”

The team made it clear that reducing the usage of plastic on campus in the community is not impossible, asince all it takes is Ramapo students to come together and take action.