My name is Tatum Dyar (She/Her), and I recently graduated from Bethany College in West Virginia with B.A.s in Marketing and International Business. Over the past year, I facilitated the development of the college’s complete switch to reusable take-out containers in our dining hall. Financing is often one of the toughest aspects of pushing for sustainable change at the collegiate level, and I hope that this story helps others who are trying to take action at their own schools!
For years I had thought about creating a sustainability club on my campus, but it wasn’t until my senior year that I felt confident enough to take the leap and go for it. During the Fall of 2020, I founded Greener Bethany, our campus’s first ever sustainability club.. I was amazed by the amount of student, faculty, and community support! I also joined the Students Taking on Oil and Petrochemicals program led by PLAN; I was inspired by the student-led movements taking place throughout Appalachia, and I felt that this was the perfect time to make long-lasting change on my own campus.
Members of Greener Bethany collecting recycling around campus in 2020
Greener Bethany decided that our biggest goal for 2020 – 2021 was to switch out the Styrofoam take-out containers in the dining hall. Prior to 2020, Bethany had never offered take-out meals at dining facilities, but due to the pandemic, they had begun offering Styrofoam to-go options to encourage social distancing. As we watched the Styrofoam pile up around campus, we knew that this had to be our objective for the year. We understood that we would eventually need to discuss our plans with the college administration, and we wanted to have quantitative evidence that the student body wanted this change; so, we started an online petition for students to sign in support of switching to alternatives. After gaining around 30% of the student bodies’ signatures in support, I scheduled a meeting with our Provost to talk about our goals. He was very supportive of our mission, and he scheduled a meeting for us for us to present our plans with the appropriate staff and administrators.
Leading up to that meeting, I knew this was going to be the most important moment of the entire project, and there was a lot of research and work to be done in preparation. Research is crucial for any big project, as it shows that you know what you are talking about and put in effort. Using case studies from PLAN’s databases, I put together a rough draft of how the to-go program would work; but, I knew that costs and potential funding would be the biggest points to address in the presentation, as those are typically primary concerns for administrators. I went online and researched different suppliers of Styrofoam and reusable containers in order to develop a cost-benefit analysis between what the school was currently using and potential replacements. Then, with the help of PLAN, I determined a few different grants that could potentially be sources of funding for the project, particularly one for up to $15,000 through the Weeden Foundation. In case this funding didn’t work out, I also researched how much funding our Student Government Association (SGA) had leftover due to travel cutbacks caused by the pandemic. If the Student Government representatives voted yes, we would be able to use this money to pay for the containers if the other funding didn’t work – it is always best to provide multiple options for financing just in case some options don’t work out.
Although it may have been cheaper per unit to purchase compostable or paper containers as replacements, these alternatives are single-use, and they would have needed to be purchased repeatedly. Over time, this would make these containers much more expensive than the singular, initial investment in reusables, which do not need to be repurchased unless they are damaged or lost. In addition to cost, there were other reasons why we were so adamant about using reusables instead of compostable or paper options. For instance, Bethany does not currently have composting facilities available, and developing a composting program that could adequately process the quantity of containers would have been more expensive and complicated than the school was prepared for. This meant that both the compostable and paper options were going to be treated as disposables, and they would still be contributing to the constantly increasing amount of waste in landfills. Reusable containers are ultimately the most financially and environmentally sustainable option, as they can be used for years without increasing costs or adding to the global waste crisis.
I presented all of this information to the Provost, CFO, and dining hall management, and they were beyond impressed by the research and statistics; the manager of the dining hall even said that he would be able to replace the cost of Styrofoam for the year with reusable containers, but he mentioned that we would need additional funding for drying racks, tokens to track containers, and potential renovations to store the reusables. The group agreed that we could move forward with the project as long as there was adequate funding, so I was put in contact with the college grant writer and VP of Advancement to apply for the grant through the Weeden Foundation. We met, along with a couple amazing PLAN staff members, and started working on the application. We set up a budget and schedule for the program and collaborated on the information needed for the grant; by the end of Winter break, we had submitted our final application!
While we waited to hear back about the grant, Greener Bethany started working on a back up plan in case the grant application was denied. We created another petition – this time for students to show support for using excess SGA funds to finance the reusables program. After gaining about 150 signatures, we took it to SGA and requested for the resolution to be voted on by the representatives; the vote was successful, and we were given permission to use the funds as needed! Staying persistent and gaining the support of the student body helped us secure a back up plan for our project – we were beyond excited. Shortly after this big win, we received even more thrilling news – we received the grant from the Weeden Foundation for $15,000!!
Everyone was beyond excited to receive this opportunity to start building green infrastructure on campus. Currently, PLAN and Bethany are working together to implement the new program over the Summer of 2021, and I can’t wait until it is unveiled in the Fall! Overall, the biggest thing that I learned from this project is to not let funding stop you from pushing forward with your goals. There are tons of grants, donors, and other sources of funding available, so make sure to stay persistent and keep trying. Sometimes you have to get creative and build your own support to make it happen, but all the effort is worth it to help lay the foundation for a more sustainable future!
Tatum Dyar (She/Her)
Founder of Greener Bethany (Bethany College Sustainability Club)
Students Taking on Oil and Petrochemicals Intern with PLAN