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Purchase Petitions to Remove Single-Use Plastic Bottles from Dining

By Paige Merz

The Purchase Green Cabinet has started a petition to replace single-use plastic bottles in vending machines to more sustainable aluminum ones (Photo by Paige Merz)

The SUNY Purchase Green Cabinet released a petition on Nov. 27 urging students to support a switch from plastic bottles to aluminum cans within dining services. The petition read “Single-use plastic bottles are clogging our oceans, rivers, streets, and landfills, poisoning our air, water, and soil when they're burned in incinerators, and hastening climate change.”

In 2021, just 5% of plastic waste was recycled and reused, 10% of all plastic being single-use bottles for drinks and vending.

Although both aluminum and plastic are recyclable materials, the “behind-the-scenes” of each process differs drastically, making aluminum a top alternative. There are seven types of plastic circulated, and bottles are typically type one, Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE).

Each waste company differs on what “type” of plastic they are able to reuse, and often the specifications are a question that remains unanswered. At Purchase College, WIN Waste Innovations service trash and recycle pick-up, and offer little information on what kinds of plastic they accept for reusing. Their site also suggests that materials that cannot be recycled will be reused by “convert[ing] 6.4 million tons of non-recyclable waste into renewable energy,” further polluting air, and according to the National Resources Defense Council, this method could cause lung and heart cancer.

In contrast, aluminum containers have one “type,” making their recycling process effective and reliable. The likelihood of plastic being recycled is already scarce, but the parts that are converted are formed into less valuable materials, also known as “downcycling,” leaving the industry to create more “virgin plastics” each year.

“That’s the problem with it,” said Grace Afflerbach, Purchase sustainability coordinator. “One container can have multiple different plastics in it, which is part of the reason why the recyclability is so low, versus aluminum, it’s only one.”

According to the Aluminum Association, 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still circulated today because the material is able to be reused indefinitely. In 2019, there were 368m tonnes of newly made plastics put onto the market.

Aluminum containers are “close-loop recycled,” meaning each container can be remade into its original form after being used, unlike plastic.

“It's not a monumental change, but one in a more sustainable direction,” Robyn Graygor, a member of the Green Fee committee, wrote via email. “Getting sustainability projects approved on campus is like pulling teeth so to me this is one of the baby steps.”

SUNY New Paltz took steps toward this change in 2020, seeing positive results from permanently switching container materials. Their reasons for implementing this included: Improving the well-being of their campus’ community, lessening chemical exposure from plastic bottles, and changing the inappropriate impact that plastic plants have on low-income communities.

Plastic Coca-Cola bottles, for example, hold 16.9 ounces while the canned beverage holds 12 ounces. Afflerbach said that the switch will decrease revenue to the Purchase College Association (PCA), a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, while benefiting the environment and health of Purchase, therefore making some uneasy with the idea of proposed changes due to a loss of product and profit.

Purchase College is an affected entity of Executive Order No. 22 “Directing State Agencies to Adopt a Sustainability and Decarbonization Program,” which pushes for institutions to reduce carbon export by 10% every five years. In order to stay in line with No. 22, Purchase needs to work with dining services and Chartwells to ensure an impact.

“The main reason we needed student signatures was because Chartwells kept dismissing the proposal because they thought students would be upset with a change to aluminum cans,” wrote Graygor.

Ashley Friedman, student sustainability coordinator, said that items sold in plastic bottles are among the highest selling items for Chartwells, this possibly due to a drink purchase being included in a meal, therefore students may feel obligated to purchase them.

Afflerbach said that within two days the petition tallied over 200 signatures, and has since been closed. Support from the student body indicates willingness to make the change within campus eateries, and propels Purchase’s goals of being a more “green” campus.

“Chartwells is on board with the idea and is currently working on making water bottle filling stations more accessible and clearer,” wrote Friedman. “They are also looking for alternative options for plastic bottles but have not decided on one yet.”

There is no current timeline for the Sustainability Outreach Advisory Committee’s petitioned changes, but the transition is expected to be completed by the end of next semester.



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