e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry
e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

Vending Machines Part of the Plastic-Free Solution


The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry has removed all plastic beverage bottles in vending machines across its campuses, supporting the College's commitment to address plastic pollution. In 2020, SUNY ESF was the first New York State college to sign the #breakfreefromplastic campus pledge, committing to develop a roadmap to a plastic-free campus by 2025. This pledge was developed by PLAN (Post-Landfill Action Network) and is part of the Break Free From Plastic movement, which was started in 2016 to eliminate single-use plastic internationally.

"We are committed to being a leader in the global fight to reduce unnecessary single use plastics," said Susan Fassler, Sustainable Facilities Manager. "Our work means that we're part of something bigger than us, than ESF. Tackling plastic pollution will not be easy. It's not something that any one entity can do on its own. There is power in collaboration, though. We first decided to address vending machines on our campus after a discussion with SUNY New Paltz's sustainability team. They are shifting away from plastic beverage containers too, so we decided to join in and keep the momentum rolling. Plus, as more colleges/universities make this shift, we will start to see a wider variety of beverage options in aluminum cans. We can help drive the market in this way."

Fassler worked with ESF's Business Office and American Food and Vending, the College's food service vendor, to replace beverages offered in plastic bottles with options presented in aluminum. This effort supports other similarly purposed initiatives across ESF's Syracuse campus, including the installation of water bottle refilling stations installed in high-traffic areas across campus.

"Since we overhauled our campus materials management system and added campus-wide composting at the Syracuse campus, we've documented a 46% increase in recycling and a 34% decrease in trash (by weight)," said Fassler. "Our efforts are working. The results are measurable."

Moving forward, members of the College's Break Free From Plastics Committee are piloting a program that will recycle disposable plastic gloves, thereby diverting items that are known to contaminate the traditional recycling stream. The experiment is currently being executed in two research labs and the Trailhead Cafe.

"After listing all of the single-use plastics that can be found on campus, we decided to see if we could make an impact with disposable gloves, shipping and receiving packaging, and laboratory waste," said Fassler. "In a pilot program, we will be collecting and recycling gloves in two labs and the Trailhead. Pallet shrink wrap will be collected and recycled from shipping and receiving. The pilot will allow us to see if these initiatives can be scaled up in a cost-effective way on a more permanent basis. Members of the Committee will also be conducting lab walkthroughs to further identify single-use items that we can replace/remove."

The Break Free From Plastic Committee consists of approximately 20 ESF faculty, staff, and students. To join the group, contact Fassler at scfassle@esf.edu.