2015 brings major plastic reduction efforts to campus

BagFreeNPZSUNY New Paltz has been introducing new policies to reduce the campus’s consumption of limited-use plastic materials this year, as part of the College’s ongoing efforts to respond to calls for U.S. colleges and universities to take responsibility for addressing the deepening global environment crisis.

In April 2015, Sodexo, which provides dining services across campus, discontinued its use of plastic bags, in correspondence with a Village of New Paltz plastic bag ban that went into effect at the same time.

And for the beginning of the 2015 fall semester, a new beverage contract between Campus Auxiliary Services and Coca-Cola disallows the sale of water in plastic bottles. This major shift in vending policy is the outcome of a student-driven initiative many years in the making.

“Reducing plastic bags and bottle use on campus is good for the College’s overall commitment to sustainability, because it cuts back on the amount of one-time-use materials we’re going through,” said Lisa Mitten, campus sustainability coordinator. “And in the case of water, instead of drinking water from far-away watersheds, we shift to drinking water from our local watershed.”

The decision to discontinue plastic water bottle sales comes from a true grassroots movement at New Paltz.

“This movement started a few years ago when this issue was brought to the board by a group of students and faculty,” said Steven Deutsch, executive director of Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS).

The idea quickly gained support among members of the CAS Board of Directors, who eventually voted unanimously to discontinue the sale of bottled water. A campus hydration committee was formed to weigh alternative options and develop a strategy for transitioning campus from selling bottled water to using refill stations.

“In order for the elimination of bottled water to happen, they needed to provide an alternative,” Mitten said. “The idea of installing water bottle filling stations grew out of that.”

The installation of the 39 new reusable bottle filling stations on campus put CAS in a position to exclude water bottles sales when it came time earlier this year to negotiate the new beverage contract, which went into effect in August.

“There is a cost to this in the form of reduced commission from sales, but I feel and the CAS Board of Directors feel it’s an important step towards better environmental practices on campus,” Deutsch said.

While the transition has posed challenges to some campus community members who’ve grown accustomed to having access to water bottles and plastic bags, the Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS) has made efforts to accommodate them and ease the adjustment. In addition to the filling stations (and with plans to install more over the coming year), OCS has been distributing free stainless steel water bottles and canvas bags at the weekly farmer’s markets held on campus to help accommodate students to the plastic reductions.

More information about Sustainability at SUNY New Paltz is available online.