Now there’s a responsible place to put that pesky plastic bag left over from a late night Wawa trip. After receiving a $1,000 grant from the College of William and Mary’s Committee on Sustainability, Tristan Schnader ’13 and Morrison Mast ’12 set up receptacles for plastic bag recycling around campus.
“This all started off as just [Morrison’s] idea,” Schnader said. “One night he said, ‘I’d really like to see plastic bag recycling on this campus,’ and I said ‘I’m in.’ The next couple of weeks, we started planning, and we applied for a grant from the Committee on Sustainability.”
Schnader and Mast set up 14 plastic bag containers around campus in hopes that students will recognize the need for recycling.
“The current blue bins that the school has set up, they’re only for plastic bottles. The receptacles [that we put up] are there for a) students to realize that they should be recycling their plastic bags and b) give them the opportunity. If every student takes the time to actually recycle their plastic bags, then we can increase sustainability on our campus.”
The two students teamed up with the College chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, the national service fraternity, to ensure that the containers would be emptied and recycled frequently.
“We’ve formed a partnership with APO,” Schnader said. “APO can collect the plastic bags, do rounds every two weeks. We’re going to provide a number that students can call if a bin is full, so that they can call the number, and they will come empty it.”
One motivating factor of the campaign is sea turtle research, with which Mast has experience. According to reuseit.com, plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts. Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.
“This summer I went and worked with a sea turtle conservation organization down in Brazil,” Mast said. “Seventy percent of turtles that they did necropsies on, that either died in captivity or washed up dead, had their intestines lodged with plastic bags. Because when a sea turtle sees a plastic bag floating they have this search image for jellyfish. If it’s floating, translucent or colorful, they’ll just snatch it up; and it’ll clog them. Eventually [the turtles] will starve to death because nothing can pass through. It’s a big problem.”
Another sustainability project, managed by Corbett Drummey ’12, is focused on promoting the use of tap water rather than buying plastic water bottles. The campaign, ‘I’d tap that’, held its opening program Monday. The program involved a statue made of plastic bottles, a water tasting and free T-shirts.
“The whole thing was one big innuendo,” Drummey said. “We wanted the campaign to be really fun so that students would actually take part in it… We wanted to showcase how much the College actually uses. The College sells, on campus, 144,000 bottles a year. We wanted to showcase that, so we decided if we took one percent and we built a sculpture out of it, it would be powerful. Because the problem is unreal, it’s sort of intangible.”
A volunteer committee of students, faculty and administrators runs the Committee on Sustainability, which is funded by green fees and spearheaded by Sustainability Fellow Sarah Hanke. Included in each student’s special fees, the green fee is about $15 per student per semester, totaling around $200,000 per year. The committee then allocates funding based on grants given to applicants with plans to improve sustainability at the College.
“Last spring, they submitted a proposal for green fees funding,” Hanke said.” The money comes from the green fees that every student pays. $40,000 is put into a green endowment, and the rest is available to receive as grants. Anybody at the campus can apply. You basically just have to have an idea that impacts sustainability on campus in some way and write up a proposal. We usually try to give a priority to student-led projects.”
Dan Casey ’14 observed the construction of the first plastic bag container sponsored by the committee.
“I think that William and Mary’s move to greater sustainability is a step in the right direction,” Casey said. “It shows our increasing awareness about the interconnectedness in the world. While change at this school won’t make the difference by itself, I have no doubt that its effects will emanate out, creating more positive change in the future.”