An icon of an incinerator with a cancel sign over it, next to headshot photos of the 2021 STOP Fellow cohort.
Logo for Youth for Appalachian Climate Justice, with a depiction of a green hand that has a flower with a green stem and pink buds coming out of it and a mountain underneath the hand.

For the last year, PLAN has been mentoring 6 students in the Ohio River Valley to support them in campaigns to eliminate plastic through our STOP: Students Taking On Petrochemicals & Plastic program. This work focused on the production stage of the Linear Consumption Economy. Over this time, the students have learned how to build coalitions, write press releases, facilitate large meetings, host events, and more. Not only are there young & experienced organizers in this region ready to resist the petrochemical build-out, but there are sparks of a larger uprising of youth that want to protect Appalachia from this toxic industry. In June of this year, they hosted the first Youth for Appalachian Climate Justice Conference, which brought over 50 youth organizers from this region together to train, collaborate and learn from each other. Read more under each school’s heading below to see what our students have accomplished at their respective campuses.

Selena Easley (she/they), Washington & Jefferson College, Pennsylvania

Fall: The main goal at W&J this semester was to improve recycling education to reduce cross-contamination. To do this Selena applied for and received over $2000 for new recycling bins with better signage and multiple streams. Moving forward, Selena hopes to continue educational campaigns as well as advocate for recycling on her campus’s Sustainability Committee. She will also be working with the Center for Coalfield Justice to host movie nights for students and research putting in a community pollinator garden.

Spring: Over the last 7 months, Selena has seen tremendous growth as a community organizer. She was able to secure funding for much needed updated recycling bins at her school, and also hosted the first ever Washington & Jefferson Sustainability Summit which focused on the fossil fuel extraction in the region and its relationship to both single-use plastic and the school’s sustainability efforts. As an individual, she was also awarded the W&J Environmental Studies Program Prize ‘21. She looks forward to continuing this work as she starts a graduate program at Penn State University.

Baleigh Epperly (she/they), Marshall University, West Virginia

Fall: This semester Baleigh’s goals were to complete a waste audit, meet with the President of the university and host two events. They were able to complete all these goals, and even made the front page of their campus newspaper with their brand audit. Their work was  also mentioned in a press conference by the City of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill PEduto in a press conference about how “educational institutions have the ability to bring [sustainable] innovation” to their surrounding communities. Baleigh will continue to organize with STOP next semester.

Spring: The Marshall University campaign kicked off with a brand audit in early fall last year. This audit made local news, catching the eye of the university president. In response to this, Marshall President Jerome Gilbert signed onto the Break Free From Plastic Pledge, making Marshall the first campus in Appalachia to commit to eliminate all single-use plastic by 2026. More about Baleigh’s role in this extremely successful campaign is noted in this blog post. This school has also partnered with local community groups to start an industrial composting facility, which will be able to receive waste from the school and surrounding areas.  Throughout all of Marshall’s projects, they have maintained a close partnership with The Ohio River Environmental Coalition (OVER), with both Baleigh and the Marshall Sustainability Director sitting on the OVEC board.

Rachael Hood (they/them), West Virginia State University, West Virginia

Fall: Rachael has been busy laying the foundation for plastic elimination at their school. They joined the local Student Sierra Club and led a campaign planning session for the club to establish a plan to eliminate single use disposable plastic on campus. They have also met with members of the sustainability faculty committee and the sustainability manager to build support for the project. In the spring, Rachael hopes to work more with community organizers in Morgantown to figure out a waste prevention program that works for the university and the city.

Spring: Rachael spent the fall semester assembling diverse stakeholders for a Plastic Free Task Force that meets biweekly. This group is composed of students, staff and faculty from across the university. In the community, Rachael has worked in various capacities with community groups such as Morgantown Green Team, Concerned Ohio River Residents, & the Ohio Environmental Council. At the college, Rachael has been working closely with the Student Sierra Club at WVU, and introduced a petition with this club to eliminate plastics. The petition has over 500 student signatures, with many coming after hosting a successful panel event showcasing their fellow STOP organizers, and the coalition that they are building together. Rachael is currently working on passing an official  resolution through the Student Government that supports their petition to eliminate plastic on the campus, in addition to pursuing her masters at West Virginia University.

Tatum Dyer (she/her), Bethany College, West Virginia

Fall: One of the primary goals of this semester at Bethany was to have an official (Student Government Approved) environmental club on campus. The group Greener Bethany was founded in September, and since then, they have built a membership of 22 students who meet weekly. With the power of this student organization, a petition was created to eliminate Styrofoam and plastic take-out containers from their campus. The petition has 200 signatures, which is over 30% of the student body. This petition helped the students get a meeting with the Provost, Dean of Students, and Chief Financial Officer to begin the planning process. Additionally, the students have started a student lead recycling program, in which 100 students participate in transferring their recycling to an off campus facility, because it is not provided on campus. Tatum will continue organizing next semester to further this programming.

Spring: Tatum started the fall off with the creation of a brand new club: Greener Bethany. The process to get recognized was difficult, but they were officially recognized this spring. Despite being deemed “unofficial,” the club continued to meet on a regular basis in the fall. Greener Bethany started a petition to ban styrofoam, which now has over 200 student signatures, and had several meetings with university administrators to bring this idea to fruition.  This spring they celebrated a huge win when they applied for and received a $15,000 grant from the Weeden Foundation to implement a reusable container program for all students (read more on the process in this blog post). Bethany College will now be the first in WV to switch completely to reusable containers. The club also has stayed connected to the community by regularly attending the Bethany Community Environmental Club meetings.

Briant Grant (he/him), University of Louisville, Kentucky

Fall: Briant set out to improve the relationship between the environmental justice community and the campus this semester. He has worked with Change Today, Change Tomorrow and West Jefferson County Community Task Force. Additionally, he set up a community connection that resulted in the release of  a podcast about the toxic chemical often found in local water sources, PFAS. Next semester Briant is focusing on passing resolutions to ban plastic water on campus, and renegotiating the campus contract with Pepsi.

Spring: Briant’s work has focused on connecting students to the surrounding environmental justice groups, such as Change Today, Change Tomorrow and The West Jefferson County Community Task Force. On campus, he has assisted The University of Louisville in completing PLAN’s holistic zero waste assessment, Atlas, for their full campus. After having several meetings over many months with dining services and vendors, Briant celebrated a big win this spring, when University of Louisville became one of the first schools to successfully switch from bottled water to canned water. He has also been adding student-focused input on the sustainability and climate action plan.

College of Wooster, Ohio | Lia Kahan, 2022

Lia started out with a voter education project, providing information about the impact the election would have on the community in relation to the petrochemical buildout, and registering students to vote. They also organized a clean up and restoration of a trail near the college campus, in a larger effort to promote campus sustainability and stewardship. Lia is investigating what implementing compost on campus would look like, working with the community group, Rural Action in Athens, Ohio. They have also been in close contact with the dining director to look into implementing reusable containers on campus, and building more sustainable options into the dining hall renovation.