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Thesis project goes green

Charitha Isanaka | Monday, March 4, 2013

When senior graphic design major Megan Malley chose sustainability as the topic of her thesis project, she discovered more than 100 colleges across the country have banned the sale of plastic water bottles on campus.

“I was surprised that a university as socially and environmentally conscious as Notre Dame has not considered doing the same,” she said.

Today, Malley will showcase a portion of Notre Dame’s waste through an large artistic installation on South Quad. She collected 1,000 plastic water bottles from around campus, and she will display the bottles to demonstrate the scale of waste generated by plastic bottle use.

Malley said she hopes displaying the statistic in a physical way will help people understand the environmental impact of the waste more clearly.

“Growing up in the Northwest, I was always taught to consider my carbon footprint, so my family recycled and composted everything we could,” Malley, a resident of Seattle, said.

Through her research, Malley discovered plastic water bottles are the fastest growing form of waste in the United States. She said she was incredulous such a large environmental impact results from a product whose manufacture is unnecessary in the first place.

The use of disposable water bottles is even more unnecessary at Notre Dame than most other locations, Malley said.

“Every building has at least one drinking fountain with clean and safe water, and over 32 have hydration stations that fill large bottles in seconds,” Malley said. “The convenience of clean tap water makes it exceptionally easy to avoid spending money on water bottles.”

Malley said her research demonstrated that advertising from the plastic water bottle industry leads consumers to believe bottled water is somehow safer than tap water. In reality, tap water undergoes stricter and more frequent health checks, she said.

Malley said she hopes her thesis project will educate the campus about the day-to-day impact of using disposable bottles and spark activism in the Notre Dame community. Her education tools include today’s installation, her website, takeawayplastic.com and a book and a film she is creating for the project.

“Eventually, I hope to enable an official campus-wide ban [on the sale of plastic water bottles],” Malley said.

Malley said students should more closely consider the impact their daily habits have on the environment. As an academic community, Notre Dame should be more conscious of its effect on the environment, she said, and should make decisions to reduce plastic waste as much as possible.

“By refusing to purchase bottled water, a college campus can substantially decrease the plastic waste generated each year,” she said.

Malley’s thesis project will be displayed in the Snite Museum of Art from Apr. 7 to May 20. The exhibit will include her book, video and photos of her installation.