Guest blog by: Makayla Doran, Student Intern, Eckerd College
Eckerd College, located along the sunny coast of the Gulf of Mexico, has been working hard to reduce single-use plastic consumption on campus for years. Following a successful NOAA Marine Debris Program prevention grant focused on reducing single-use plastic at Eckerd, the Reduce Single-Use Project teamed up with the University of North Florida (UNF) in Jacksonville. On both campuses the team has encouraged college students to rely less on plastics through events, beach cleanups, and even an app.
Student interns have been very active leading activities on both campuses, including beach cleanups that collected and removed hundreds of pounds of trash. At Eckerd, we have been hosting Make Your Own Plastic Alternatives! events where students make beeswax wraps to replace plastic wraps, tie-dyed cotton masks, t-shirt bags, mini planters with seeds, and all-natural face scrubs in glass jars. At UNF, students have had the opportunity to engage with a series of speakers to explore topics such as the lifecycle of plastics and using science to reduce plastic pollution.
During the Fall of 2021, the Reduce Single-Use team introduced a smartphone app to track single-use plastic use and refusal in a cohort of first year students while they participated in plastic reduction challenges over three semesters. Our goal was to increase awareness and accountability for individual plastic consumption. During these challenges, over 33,000 single-use plastic items were refused by students. We also tested the effectiveness of the app to reduce plastic consumption by comparing plastic use between students who tracked their plastic use and refusal through the app and those who did not. We hope that in the future we can use data from this study to improve the app and make it available to the general public.
In 2022, Eckerd College received an additional grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to further expand on their NOAA-funded work, building on the app design to help the surrounding St. Petersburg community to digitally track their single-use plastic consumption and hopefully keep plastic out of the Gulf of Mexico. Stay tuned!
Our continued work to reduce plastic waste inspired Eckerd College to reaffirm its commitment to Break Free From Plastics in October 2022. This commitment, originally signed in 2019, prohibits the purchase of unnecessary single-use plastic with college funds. At UNF, student leaders are working toward a similar commitment.
With the support of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the Reduce Single-Use team at both schools were able to make great strides over a short period. Our goal is to continue to educate and help our campus communities to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, their plastic consumption. We hope that this inspires others to do the same.