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ESF Helps Other Colleges Eliminate Plastics on Campus


Sue Fassler, sustainable facilities manager, will be part of a panel discussion led by the Post Landfill Action Network. Ask the Experts: Eliminating Plastic On Your Campus will take place from 5 to 6 p.m. on Feb. 22.

The public is invited to ask questions to a panel comprised of students and staff from three schools that have signed PLAN's Break Free from Plastic pledge. Along with ESF, the University of California and the College of the Atlantic will be represented. Panelists will talk about the steps and actions they have taken on their campuses to eliminate single-use plastics, along with challenges that arose along the way.

At ESF, breaking free from plastics has been a campuswide initiative that started to ramp up during the PLAN's Northeast Beyond Waste Student Summit, hosted by ESF in February 2020. "That's where we signed the break free from plastic pledge," said Fassler. "The pledge includes four actions we agree to take as a campus to systematically and over time to eliminate and replace unnecessary single-use plastics."

Exceptions are made to ensure accessibility to all people of all abilities, she noted, "but anything we don't need, we are working to replace or remove from campus ."

One of the first steps was forming a committee to develop a "long list of all the single-use plastics that we use on campus," Fassler said. The committee focused its efforts on, vending machines, packaging, and laboratories.

Among the steps ESF has taken to eliminate single-use plastics are swapping out plastic bottles from all campus vending machines. "Now every beverage container is aluminum," she noted. The College will also soon be recycling all pallet shrink wrap. This process requires the shipping and receiving division to separate shrink wrap from other trash and recyclables. The grounds crew will then store it separately from other recyclables and self-haul it to a local recycling facility. The College is also embarking on a pilot program to recycle gloves used in laboratories.

The Feb. 22 panel discussion will allow presenters the opportunity to share their experience with breaking free from plastics, the challenges faced and what steps and programs are in the works.

Even though COVID-19 presented unique challenges to the College, Fassler was encouraged when she saw the 2020 diversion metrics. They are on par with the gains that were achieved during 2019. The College overhauled its materials management system during the summer of 2019.

"Since that time, the College has been able to decrease trash pickup from five days a week to three (two during the pandemic) and our recycling rate increased by 46 percent, while our trash weight decreased by 34 percent", said Fassler.