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:
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?
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?
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 kicking plastics off your campus? Not sure where to get started?
Chat with Young, PLAN’s Plastics Campaign Director, by following the link below.
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.