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Senate asks University to eliminate single-use plastic

| Thursday, February 27, 2020

The student body senate passed a resolution Wednesday formally requesting that the University eliminate single-use plastic on campus. The resolution was drawn up by junior  student body vice president Patrick McGuire and sophomore director of sustainability Juliette Kelley. 

The resolution calls on the University to permanently halt the sale and provision of all single-use plastics across campus. This includes single-use plastic containers, water bottles, straws and bags available at facilities such as Grab ‘n Go, Duncan Student Center restaurants, the Hammes Bookstore and other locations. 

The resolution reasoned the University has already begun the process of eliminating single use plastic through the distribution and use of Ozzi reusable food containers and reusable water bottles. Before the resolution passed, senior and Keough senator James Bathon recommended adding a period of time for the University to phase out the current structure to the resolution.

“Just putting a hard stop [to the use of single-use plastic] could be very, very drastic on the system,” he said.

Sophomore and Keenan senator Luke Sheridan-Rabideau agreed the transition would be difficult but said the transition period is not as important as the issue itself.

“I feel like we are not necessarily imposing a hard stop on them,’’ Sheridan-Rabideau said. “I think we are sending a message that this is something we want to happen,”

After further questioning, the resolution passed. 

In an interview after the senate meeting, Kelley said the changes peer institutions have recently implemented really prompted the drafting of this resolution.

“Vanderbilt was a big one,” she said. “They got rid of all plastic wattle bottles on campus.”

Further statistics and sources used in the drafting of the resolution came from research reflecting action at Purdue University, which is piloting a reusable silverware campaign, and Princeton University, which has eliminated the use of plastic straws. 

Kelley also wanted to engage the senate and the student body with this resolution.

“So the hope is to bring [the resolution] to the forefront of people’s attention, that this is something that is going on on campus, and we can keep moving forward with it,” she said.

Kelley has spoken to members of the administration regarding the issue, conversing with departments such as Campus Dining, including Campus Dining senior director Chris Abayasinghe, as well Office of Sustainability personnel such as senior director of sustainability Carol Mullaney and associate program manager Caitlin Jacobs. 

“They’ve been working really hard to take some steps like getting rid of plastic straws and introducing reusable containers in places like Garbanzo,” Kelley said. “So hearing from them and the stuff they have been working towards with this was really cool. I thought it would be great to advertise some of it in senate and put forth in trying to support more of these initiatives.” 

This resolution would mainly apply to food services on campus. Chain restaurants such as Starbucks would be impacted differently should the University implement this change.

“This would primarily affect places that are Notre Dame Campus Dining,” Kelley said. “So Modern Market and Grab ‘n Go are kinda the two big places where I see this having an impact. Whereas those places [chain restaurants], because they are under a third party contractor, would be more difficult to influence.”

Kelley also said these dining options are currently being affected as the University works toward the elimination of plastic straws and taking up more sustainability initiatives. Additionally, the Office of Sustainability’s comprehensive sustainability strategy includes the goals of “decreasing unnecessary individual water bottle use on campus” and “increasing single-stream recycling rate to approach the overall University 2030 waste diversion goal of 67%.” 

Kelley said she hopes the resolution itself will inspire change on campus from the University and also the student body.

“I have seen resolutions like this make waves,” she said.

She spoke of the “Meatless Mondays” resolution that came from last year’s Department of Sustainability, which suspended the serving of meat in dining halls on Mondays but “fell off.’’

However, Kelley has hope this resolution will catch on.

“I think the most important thing is it starts the discussion in the administration,” she said. “Whether anything will come of it, I don’t know. If it does, it will probably be a very slow process, but we’ve already seen them making progress so hopefully this will help that continue.”

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About Isabella Volmert

Isabella "Issy" Volmert is a senior majoring in English and minoring in theology and journalism, ethics and democracy at the University of Notre Dame. She currently serves The Observer as assistant managing editor. Follow her @ivolmertnews for niche JED Twitter content.

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