As people fortunate enough to live on California’s coast, the University of California, Santa Barbara community has proven an interest in caring for the environment. Anyone who walks by a trash receptacle on campus will notice we are concerned about whether the packaging of our lunches will end up in a landfill. People can use the library’s hydration stations to fill up their reusable water bottles instead of buying single use plastic bottles. However, UCSB’s Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) acknowledges we have more work to do if we have a sincere interest in sustainability.
UCSB’s PPC is committed to making our campus more sustainable by eliminating our reliance on single use plastics. The group, a pilot project of the national PPC, was formed in 2011 and has already made significant changes in our environmental attitudes and practices. In April 2012, they hosted their Day Without a Bag to promote responsible bag use at the bookstore. According to plasticpollutioncoalition.org, the group gave out 3,500 reusable bags. Alyssa Hall, one of three student directors for the PPC, said the bookstore, which uses about 3,000 bags every month, will now adhere to San Francisco’s standards for compostable bags. Knowing bags are only part of the problem, the group hosted a similar event this April focusing on single use plastic bottles, during which they distributed 800 reusable bottles.
“We are handing out a solution,” said Hall, optimistically sharing details about the Day Without a Bottle, which, on top of free reusable bottles, included a performance by self-described environmental rap superhero Mr. Eco. She noted the promising lack of opposition to the PPC’s goals, saying, “There has absolutely been more positivity than negativity. People are receptive to the approach.”
Even though people have expressed support for eliminating single use plastics, especially on our coastal campus, it can be a daunting change. The PPC works to emphasize how convenient switching to reusable or compostable options can be, particularly if students make an effort to implement their use in common areas.
“There are better options,” said Hall, providing examples such as using a water bottle instead of purchasing water every day. Such a simple change saves both money and a lot of waste. According to Hall, 80 percent of plastic bottles are not recycled. In addition, a stainless steel bottle will cost about $20 once, making it the cheaper option in the long run.
Due to their success, our PPC project has become a national model for sustainable practices on university campuses. In 2012, they were awarded a Best Practice award by the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference. Considering our location, it is no surprise that they are particularly dedicated to eliminating plastic waste, which pollutes the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch collects a significant amount of our plastic waste; according to Greenpeace, 10 percent of the 200 billion pounds of plastic the world produces annually travels to the ocean.
“Ocean currents allow trash to travel all over the world,” wrote UCSB student Ryan McInerney in a research paper on plastic pollution. “Grocery bags, bottle caps, and plastic utensils…take thousands of years to break down while they release tons of harmful chemicals.”
UCSB only creates a fraction of the plastic pollution that harms our planet, but setting a sustainable example can empower other campuses and communities to say no to plastics. Alyssa Hall encourages any students interested in eliminating plastic waste, especially those who belong to other organizations on campus, to consider teaming up with the PPC to accomplish that goal. They can be contacted on their Facebook page or at email@example.com.