University of Connecticut Dining Services and UConnPIRG are collaborating to eliminate plastic bags on campus and replace them with environmentally-friendly brown paper bags, according to dining services director C. Dennis Pierce and PIRG member Kelly Rafferty.
The brown bags are available at each Grab N Go on campus as well as in the Student Union, effective Jan. 21
Rafferty, a sixth-semester English major and a Zero Waste Campaign Advocate, said PIRG had long been interested in participating in the no-plastic movements and had been planning a switch to paper bags for over a year.
“I ended up going to a few solid waste advisory meetings in Mansfield and they were able to present a direction to me,” Rafferty said. “I learned that Mansfield’s plastic ban would not affect UConn because its a town ordinance and UConn does not follow those, so it become incredibly important to get plastic bags phased out on campus.”
Rafferty said the desire to expand the plastic ban went further than simply trying to adhere to rules and regulations passed in Mansfield.
“Students are a huge population of Mansfield and they shop in places like Storrs Center,” Rafferty said. “It doesn’t send the greatest message when people say, ‘you only have to use reusable bags outside of campus but on campus you can have as many plastic bags as you want.’”
Rafferty said members of PIRG asked students in all eight dining halls whether they would be in favor of the brown bags. 90 percent of students surveyed reacted positively to the change, according to Rafferty.
“It’s not that we want to use brown bags as a substitute for plastic bags,” Rafferty said. “We want to encourage students to bring their own bags because that’s the most eco friendly way to use the goods and services. Paper still has its own problems so we want to avoid both of those problems.”
Rafferty said the choice between keeping plastic or replacing it with brown bags was clear given the negative impacts of plastic on the environment.
“Plastic releases methane which is a greenhouse gas, and plastic bags are made of oil or natural gas, even the biodegradable ones,” Rafferty said. “There are no industrial composters in the state of Connecticut so they’re not getting biodegraded.”
Pierce said originally, the brown bags were to carry a 10-cent fee, but dining services has since removed the fee given that there is no way to charge money on a flex pass for Grab N Gos.
“We have smaller, less expensive bags for the Grab N Gos compared to what you’d be getting in retail, so we’re just going to subsidize that 10-cent fee,” Pierce said.
The new brown paper bags are significantly more efficient for student use and recycling purposes, Rafferty said.
“They (paper bags) cut down on water and land usage,” Rafferty said. “Paper biodegrades naturally, so there is no need for an industrial composter.”
Pierce said dining services and PIRG have successfully made a fluent transition to brown paper bags in most facilities on campus.
“There is not a plastic bag within a dining services operation,” Pierce said. “That includes the convenience store, the bistro, they’ve all switched over to paper.”