The Daily Northwestern

Getting Trashy

Krislyn Placide

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When Communication junior Elizabeth Miller set out to participate in the No Impact Challenge, she vowed to have zero points at the end of the month. She soon learned that this would be no small feat when she subconsciously grabbed a paper towel to dry her hands. That night, she had to record a point for the use of a disposable item on the No Impact blog, realizing that the use of these unnecessary items is ingrained.

“Single-use items are a bigger part of my life than I realize,” Miller says.

Still, the Co-director of Roosevelt Institute’s Center for Energy and the Environment says that disposable items like paper towels, cups and plastic bottles are easy to live without. The No Impact Challenge dares Northwestern students to be more conscious of how much paper and plastic they use.

The Roosevelt Institute is a campus group that engages with other organizations on- and off-campus to tackle relevant issues, helping them with research and implementing policy. Roosevelt began the Bagless NU campaign with a policy proposal Miller drafted that would institute a bag fee. The group worked on getting the policy implemented in Evanston, but had to be wary of obstacles.

“Part of the reason for the hiatus on the bag fee was that we wanted to build public support,” Miller says. “In other cities that tried to pass similar initiatives, the plastic bag lobby came in and campaigned because the bag fee would hurt their interests.”

The Bagless NU campaign fosters support by holding events to educate the Northwestern and Evanston communities, including film screenings of the film Bag It, the No Impact Challenge blog and through events like Mt. Trashmore, where students could stand face to face with the trash they create.

Campus environmental groups such as NU Recycling, Environmental Campus Outreach, Engineers for a Sustainable World, Students for Ecological and Environmental Development and Bagless NU planned an event where all the trash gathered in the dining halls would be dumped onto the lawn in front of Lunt Hall. Unfortunately, the rainy weather that day called for a change of plans.

The groups convened in the ground floor of Norris, where a plastic bag monster costume and many reusable items were ready to be presented to all who walked by. As people stopped by to pick up free water bottles and plastic bags, they had the opportunity to learn more about Bagless NU and about the No Impact Challenge.

“The goal is to raise our own consciousness to help educate and show others how to reduce the impact,” Miller says. “We empower the campus with the tools to do what we can to change our throwaway culture.”

A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade according to, but Bagless NU aims to make the Northwestern community aware of how easy it is to eliminate the need for a plastic bag.

“We don’t need them, but millions of barrels of oil are needed for their production,” Miller says. “There’s a wide range of environmental issues we can tackle, but for me, waste is one of the most pervasive and one of the easiest to fix.”