On Nov. 5, Eckerd College President Donald Eastman III signed the Break Free from Plastic Pledge, making Eckerd the first college in the United States to implement a comprehensive ban of nonessential single-use plastics.
This initiative was influenced by Eckerd’s Reduce Single Use team, a project funded by a two-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, working alongside the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) and the Public Interest Research Group’s (PIRG) Plastics Campaign.
The pledge, originally outlined by PLAN and modified to suit Eckerd, will prohibit the use of the college budget to purchase unnecessary single-use plastic items such as beverage bottles, plates, utensils, balloons, plastic shipping and packaging materials, and much more.
President Eastman hopes this agreement will inspire other colleges to join Eckerd in taking a stand against single-use plastics.
“It’s a statement by the college to say this is important, and we’re going to do everything we can, now, to eliminate the use of plastics,” Eastman said.
Plastic pollution poses a large threat to marine ecosystems and wildlife because plastics do not biodegrade. Instead, they disintegrate over time into little pieces of plastic known as microplastics, which causes great harm to the marine ecosystem. Wildlife also unknowingly ingest these microplastics and the plastic continues up the food chain.
Most plastic items never make it to a recycling facility to be properly reused, or are not recyclable to begin with.
“The sad reality is that the way that the recycling is being done in the United States right now is incredibly ineffective,” said Shannon Gowans, Ph.D., a professor of biology and marine science at Eckerd. The most ideal solution is to stop the plastic production at its source.
The inspiration for this pledge came in spring 2019 when Alex Gordon, PIRG Plastics Campaign Coordinator at Eckerd, and Will Shedden, PIRG New Voters Project Coordinator, found PLAN’s Break Free from Plastic Pledge and brought this to the attention of the Reduce Single Use team.
“It has been a team effort all across the board... Now is the time that we needed something big, and I think this pledge was it,” said senior Trish Schranck, one of the two interns working on the Reduce Single Use project at Eckerd.
Items considered essential single-use plastic, such as those used for scientific research and health and safety needs, will still be allowed.
This ban will officially be enacted beginning Jan. 1, 2020.