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NU students want to rid campus of plastic bags

Rachelle Blidner

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Northwestern has always been purple, but several student groups now want to make both NU and Evanston greener by going “bagless.”

The campaign to reduce the number of plastic bags used on campus and in Evanston was started by the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a national student policy organization, and Environmental Campus Outreach at Fiedler Hillel.

Under the plan, instead of taking a new plastic bag every shopping trip, students would use reusable bags or recycle existing plastic bags, said Weinberg sophomore Alicia White, financial director of ECO.

“We would really like to make it a student movement where students choose and care to use their own bags,” she said.

The goal of the Energy and Environment Policy Center at the Roosevelt Institute is to persuade NU students to lobby stores in Evanston and on campus to stop giving out plastic bags, said Weinberg junior Andrew Hobaugh, co-president of the Roosevelt Institute.

Sites on and around campus could definitely be greener, Hobaugh said.

Norris Center Bookstore gave out about 90,000 plastic bags last year alone, he said. Since most of its sales are made by visitors who most likely do not carry reusable bags with them, he said, totally eliminating plastic bags would not be feasible. Still, Norris has been open to working with students to reduce plastic bags.

NU would also save money by purchasing fewer plastic bags, White said.

C-stores give out biodegradable plastic bags, but Hobaugh said he does not know how long these bags take to break down in the environment. NuCuisine sells reusable bags, and one dollar of every purchase is donated to Campus Kitchens, an organization which donates leftover food from dining halls to families in need.

ECO and the Roosevelt Institute would like to give out reusable bags but cannot due to cost issues, White said.

Hobaugh said he would like to see more stores function like Beck’s Book Store in Evanston, which gives out reusable bags instead of plastic or paper. Still, these bags can be just as wasteful if not reused, he said.

“When you give someone something for free, there’s no guarantee they’ll use it,” Hobaugh said. “It could be a waste.”

The bagless campaign would give students incentives to reuse bags, such as a potential punch card reward system, White said.

A potential new tax on plastic and paper bags may be another reason for students and Evanston residents to reuse them. In September, Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) proposed a tax that would charge shoppers 25 cents for each disposable plastic bag they receive from stores. Burrus has since pulled the proposal.

The tax is based on a proposal written by Michael B. Drennan, co-chair of Residents’ Outreach for Citizens for a Greener Evanston. His proposal was modeled after a policy from RTVF junior Elizabeth Miller , co-director of the Energy and Environment Policy Center. She said she got the idea for her policy, called “Disposable Shopping Bag Tax,” from a high school essay and her time working in a clothing store where shoppers would take unnecessary bags for small items, like wallets.

Miller said she hopes Evanston could become a model for other cities to follow. Citizens for a Greener Evanston and the Roosevelt Institute have partnered to push the tax, she said, which would not be the first of its kind.

San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., have already implemented plastic bag taxes. As of June 2010, 20 localities had restricted plastic bag use or were considering doing so, according to The New York Times News Service. Seattle’s bag tax did not pass in a vote by residents in August 2009. The House introduced a bill in 2009 that would place a five cent tax on single-use bags, with some proceeds going to environmental programs.

Communication sophomore Savan Patel said he is not sure a tax would be effective. “Punishing” someone for using a plastic bag instead of encouraging them to reuse bags through education would not work as well, he said.

Patel reuses bags when it is convenient, but he does not think about plastic bags, he said.

Medill senior Alyssa Karas did not take a plastic bag for her latest ice cream purchase at the Norris C-store because she planned to eat it in Norris, she said. She said she tries not to use plastic bags because of their environmental impact. “It’s just one more thing that doesn’t need to be in a landfill,” she said.

Karas said she would support a tax if the fee were not exorbitant.

“If it makes people think about their consumption habits,” she said, “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

According to both White and Miller, going bagless will provide numerous benefits to the environment, including reducing trash and the amount of petroleum and oil used to make plastic bags as well as protecting marine animals who mistakenly think they are food.

Students should lessen their environmental impact by changing their habits and mentality, Miller said. “(The environmental movement) is about changing the way we interact as a society and the norms in society, and taking more consideration in the impacts of the things we don’t even notice,” she said. “We don’t think about plastic bags.”

ECO and the Roosevelt Institute will hold a screening of the documentary “Bag It” to spread awareness about the issue. The film explores the impacts of plastics on the environment. The Feb. 2 screening will be held in Harris Hall room 107 at 7 p.m.

rblidner@u.northwestern.edu

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