The Beyond Plastics Initiative was formed in the fall of 2019, by Campus Sustainability Coordinator Lisa Mitten and Sustainability Ambassadors on the Beyond Plastics Team with other faculty and staff partners at SUNY New Paltz.
SUNY New Paltz is a part of the global movement to #breakfreefromplastic because:
- Global Goal #3: Good Health and Well-Being
- When we consume food and drink from single-use plastic containers, we are exposed to chemicals connected to the public health crisis of our time, including ADD/ADHD, obesity, and cancer.
- Global Goals #10: Reduced Inequalities - Plastic production and plastic pollution are environmental and social justice issues.
- Plastic production damages local communities where plastic is made with toxic air and water pollution.
- Fossil fuel companies are locating new and expanded plastic production facilities near existing fossil fuel infrastructure, which includes targeting the Gulf Coast, the Ohio River Valley, Appalachia, and other frontline and fenceline environmental justice communities. These plastic industrial sites have a disproportionate impact on low-income communities, rural communities, and communities of color.
- Global Goal #12: Responsible Consumption & Production:
- We switched to aluminum cans because they are more likely to be recycled than plastic bottles. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018, 50% of aluminum cans are recycled, whereas only 27% of PET (plastic) bottles and jars are recycled.
- Aluminum cans are made from mostly recycled aluminum (70% of an aluminum Coca-Cola can is made from recycled content), whereas plastic beverage bottles are made from virgin materials (not recycled materials) derived from fossil fuels
- Aluminum cans are recycled into aluminum cans supporting circular, closed-loop manufacturing whereas plastic bottles are “downcycled” into other materials such as polyester clothing, carpeting, decking material, etc., that are most likely never recycled again
- Global Goal #13: Climate Action
- Most plastics are made from virgin (not recycled) materials created from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels, including an oversupply of fracked gas, which is leading to a global boom in new plastic production. Plastic production fuels the climate crisis through the release of greenhouse gases.
- Global Goal #14 Life Below Water and #15 Life on Land
- Plastics and microplastics harm wildlife, life below water, land, rivers, lakes, shorelines, and oceans.
During the Fall of 2019, the newly formed Sustainability Program Implementation Team, a team of student Sustainability Ambassadors led by Shahnoor Khan ('20), resolved to spend the year focusing on reducing single-use plastics, particularly in dining services. Throughout the year, this team weaved together education, campus engagement, and operational change. With the Office of Campus Sustainability and inspired by Judith Enck of Beyond Plastics at Bennington College, this team formed the initiative with students, faculty, and staff partners dedicated to moving "beyond plastics." The team began with self and community education: we organized an educational conference call with Judith Enck in the late fall of 2019 informing this larger group about the challenges of plastic production, use, and pollution.
Beyond Plastics Achievements
Since 2015, SUNY New Paltz has moved beyond plastics in the following ways...
- Paper bags only. We switched from plastic bags to paper bags across campus in 2015
- No bottled water sales. Discontinued the sale of bottled water in 2015 and installed 65+ bottle filling stations and gooseneck bottle fillers across campus
- Mostly aluminum cans. We switched from mostly plastic bottles to mostly aluminum cans in the fall of 2020. To learn more, explore this written case study and view this virtual interview with Shahnoor Khan about the educational and engagement process that preceded the switch to mostly aluminum cans.
- 100% Reusables in Residential Dining during COVID. Adopted 100% reusables (to-go containers, soup/salad bowls, utensils, and cup) academic year at our campus' main residential dining facility at Peregrine Dining Hall during COVID-19 during 2020-21.
- Reusable containers in retail dining. Adding the green reusable container program with an Ozzi collection machine to Element 93 in the fall of 2021 and the Student Union in the fall of 2022.
- Single-use paper products in retail dining. When Sodexo Dining Services serves food in single-use servingware, it's mostly made of paper.
- Condiment dispensers. In the fall of 2022, Sodexo Dining Services switched from serving individually wrapped condiments to pump condiment dispensers.
- Microplastic filters. Installing two different versions of microplastic filters at the Costume Shop's laundry machines, a result of Roy Ludwig's honors thesis project with Professor Andrea Varga of Theater Arts/Honors.
Campus Education & Engagement for Moving Beyond Plastics
In March of 2020, we invited Judith Enck to campus to speak before a packed house at Lecture Center 102. Following Judith's talk, Sustainability Ambassadors Shahnoor Khan ('20) and Belle Steed ('20) co-facilitated an open forum on the future of single-use plastics at SUNY New Paltz with Student Association President Pink (Taijah Pink), RHSA President Matthew Kreuz, Campus Auxiliary Services Executive Director Steve Deutsch, and Campus Sustainability Coordinator Lisa Mitten serving as panelists. Steve Deutch of Campus Auxiliary Services also presented on the economic and environmental considerations of moving to mostly aluminum cans.
Beyond Plastics Partnerships
The Sustainability Program Implementation Team formed an ongoing partnership with Executive Director Steve Deutsch of Campus Auxiliary Services and Sodexo General Manager Kevin Dicey in the fall of 2019.
Sustainability Ambassadors Emma Trotto ('20) and Tevin Green ('21) and other students from Professor Michael Sheridan's Introduction to Managing Sustainability class developed a proposal to use a suite of reusable containers at Element 93 to reduce single-use plastics and other single-use items in dining.