Proposed Plastic Bag Fee Generates Mixed Feedback

Sarah Manderbach ‘22, Staff Writer

Student Senate passed a resolution on Oct. 29 to remove plastic bags from all retail operations on campus, including the Devil’s Den and the Bookstore. This will be effective as of Feb. 1, 2020.

Student Senate Director of Campus Life & Initiatives Brendan Wilmot ’22 proposed the resolution. He explained that his inspiration for the resolution occurred over the summer, and was influenced by events in his home state. “My home state [Connecticut] initiated a plastic bag tax as a gradual transition to a full ban in 2021. Immediately, all of our major supermarket chains recognized the sway of public opinion against plastic bags and phased them out entirely, almost two years of their scheduled ban,” he said.

Wilmot’s resolution consists of goals to “condense the plastic waste stream, enhance our commitment and image of sustainability to both current and prospective members of our community, and also save the college money,” he said. Wilmot continued that plastic bags have been banned in more than “240 cities and counties” across the United States, including states such as California, Connecticut, Delaware, and Hawaii. 

The resolution will enforce a $0.25 fee for people who request a plastic bag from retail locations starting on Dec. 1. Proceeds from this fee will go into the “Green Revolving Fund” to “promote the funding of further sustainability efforts on campus,” according to Wilmot.

Ken Shultes, associate vice president for sustainability and facilities planning, expressed his fondness of the proposal to remove plastic bags from retail operations. “I think always providing people with the ability to purchase a reusable bag is a really good thing.  That way you’re not saying that a person can’t have a bag to carry their purchases, they just need to purchase a reusable bag,” he said.  Shultes also suggested that Student Senate could sponsor a program to allow people to donate reusable bags to retail operations. 

Another idea Shultes proposed is to include reusable drink containers into the campaign. “I think the discount that is provided is really quite good, but I’m not sure it’s well publicized,” Shultes said. 

Students who work with the Center for Sustainability Education (CSE) on campus expressed interest in the resolution passed by Student Senate. Noah Conte ’22, an intern with CSE, said that plastics bags are not needed since most people have backpacks and purses. “You could perhaps instill a way for people to purchase a more sustainable bag that they could buy once and then bring back for the next times,” Conte said, “but it would have to cost probably around a dollar so that people understand it is not to be thrown away.”

Giuseppe Collia ’20 said that “there have been asks for the Bookstore to remove [plastic bags] from [retail] operations in the past and to my knowledge, they have not yet agreed to remove them.”

Collia explained that he is in support of reusable bags or students using backpacks, but he is not in support of replacing plastic bags with paper ones because “They are often more carbon intrusive to produce,” he said. 

However, not all students are in favor of the change. “I think its nice that they’re trying to be more sustainable, but also some limitation to it,” said Jooeun Song ‘22, “we carry a backpack around for reasons. We can’t just assume that everyone has space in their bag to put their groceries in.”

Wilmot added that “[…] our retail operations on campus are seemingly more rooted in consumerism than conservation–which we will work to change.”