A pledge to guide campuses towards the long-term elimination of single-use disposable plastics.
In September 2018 we publicly released the “Break Free From Plastic” Campus Pledge and toolkit in order to guide college campuses through the process of properly eliminating single-use disposable plastics from their operations. We title this pledge “Break Free From Plastic” in coalition with an international movement of 1300+ organizations demanding lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. Learn more about the movement here. Bearing in mind that each school will take a unique approach as they “break free from plastic,” this pledge contains details on which single-use disposable plastics campuses are expected to eliminate in the immediate-term. Since effective removal of disposable plastics requires the establishment of proper policy, procedure, and the infrastructure for alternatives, the pledge allows 3-5 years for implementation. It also acknowledges that some plastic items do not currently have viable campus alternatives (such as plastic trash bags) and offers a temporary exception while solutions are developed.
The “Break Free From Plastic” campus pledge, accompanying toolkit, and Plastic Free Campus Manual (developed in partnership with the Plastic Pollution Coalition in 2015) specifically address accessibility and inclusivity concerns, and attempt to establish a framework for college campuses (and other institutions) to develop long-term systemic solutions to waste issues. We consider this pledge to establish a standard for what it means for a campus to break free from disposable plastic, while also acknowledging that a “plastic free campus” is impossible under current infrastructure constraints.
On Accessibility and Plastic Bans:
Accessibility and affordability should be at the forefront of all efforts towards restricting single-use disposable plastic and pre-packaged plastic wrapped retail items. PLAN advocates for policies that restrict disposable products while accommodating all users of the system, including people who have different abilities, financial limitations, or other needs. All-out bans can be exclusive and harmful, and we do not support bans without adequate accommodations and exceptions.
Anytime the availability of single-use plastics is reduced, and a new system is installed, it is essential to consider how this will affect accessibility for all populations. This includes physical accessibility, affordability, cultural accessibility, and other factors, and effects may not be obvious. For example, without proper preparation and alternatives, eliminating vending machines may have a negative impact on student food security. Likewise, elimination of plastic straws without appropriate alternatives and exceptions can limit accessibility for people with disabilities.
To ensure that these needs are considered, a diversity of groups should be included at the decision-making table. Students, staff, and faculty with different abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, and lived experiences should be intentionally included and empowered to create an accessible and equitable environment. For example, including an ADA Compliance or Student Accessibility Services office can help prevent barriers to physical accessibility. Likewise, an Office of Diversity and Inclusion or a Low Income / First Generation Student Association (such as a TRIO Program) can help consider possible financial barriers. In no situation should a “ban” on a plastic item, such as plastic straws, supercede the needs of individuals.
What about Recyclables?
We are consuming resources, including oil and natural gas, at an ever-increasing pace that is fundamentally unsustainable, largely driven through the development of disposable products and packaging. Plastic pollution is showing up everywhere, in streams and oceans, in the stomachs of marine mammals and wildlife, and in our food and water supply. At current pace, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050, and recycling is not the solution. Our pledge does not allow for “recyclable” plastic if it has the potential to be contaminated by food. The international recycling markets are experiencing significant turmoil, in large part due to contamination from food and flimsy plastic. For recycling to work, products have to be separated into near perfect categories. In modern single-stream recycling systems, contamination from foil-lined plastic packaging and food-contaminated products have downgraded recycled plastic markets significantly. We fundamentally have to change course, and that means finding systematic solutions that eliminate disposable plastic at the source in favor of reusable and compostable options.
What about Compostables?
Phasing out single-use plastics is a complex process. As such, we expect many schools to work towards single-use plastic elimination by replacing plastic disposables with single-use compostable alternatives. While in the long-run we encourage these campuses work to eliminate single-use disposables altogether, it is an important step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, many campuses across the country lack sufficient infrastructure for the type of industrial-scale composting necessary to break down single-use compostable items. Even when these facilities are geographically available, some schools lack the financial capital to contract sending their waste to these facilities. Nevertheless, replacing plastic disposables with compostable products is an important first step to breaking from purchasing contracts that mandate branded plastic products. The shift also reduces a school’s dependence on fossil fuels and can incentivize composting infrastructure investment. With these factors in mind, this pledge recognizes the switch to ASTM-certified compostable disposables, independent of compost infrastructure, as a step in the process of breaking free from plastic.
Why a Pledge?
With all these challenges and more, significant changes cannot happen overnight. Eliminating disposable plastic food serviceware requires alternate solutions. For reusables to work, institutions need to establish systems, infrastructure and fair-wage jobs to properly collect and wash dishware. Compostables are only viable when institutions can guarantee that the material is going to a properly permitted industrial composting facility. As noted above, for some items to be eliminated (such as packaged food like granola bars), institutions need to ensure that fresh, unpackaged, and affordable alternatives are available. Our goal with the “Break Free From Plastic” Campus Pledge is to support students and staff as they build campaigns to gain institutional commitment, and then to support the institution as they begin to implement these important policy and infrastructure changes with guidance on best-practices.
The Campus Toolkit
The toolkit that accompanies this pledge provides a wide array of resources for campuses, from sample petitions and senate resolutions to manuals, guides and case studies for programs, infrastructure changes, and policies. We are also providing an editable version of the pledge, for campuses that want to make commitments at an institutional level but aren’t yet ready to commit to the full “Break Free From Plastic” Campus Pledge.
In the next few months we will also be releasing an audit framework to help campuses assess policies and infrastructure, establish a standard, and allow them to benchmark their successes as they implement solutions to Break Free From Plastic!
Plastic Free Campus Manual
PLAN’s Plastic-Free Campus Manual is a great starting point to help your campus Break Free From Plastic! This manual offers best practice guidance for single-use plastic elimination campaigns, case studies, organizing tactics, project resources, and more! (Developed in partnership with the Plastic Pollution Coalition.)
Reuseable To-Go Container Guide
PLAN’s Reuseable To-Go Container Guide will lead you through the logistics of replacing disposable to-go containers with zero waste alternatives. Learn how to build a budget, communicate with administration, and build infrastructure for distribution, collection, and ongoing student engagement. (Developed in Partnership with Preserve.)
Interested in your campus signing the pledge?
Fill out the form below and we will send you a signature-ready version, and we will be in touch to help you set up a plan to Break Free From Plastic on campus.