‘Skip the Bag’ trashes plastic bag waste


Lily Katz

Trash cans overflow at the end of Quad Day.

By Kayla Martinez, Staff Writer

A movement for a more clean and green campus is en route.

From setting up the campus recycling program to leading coal divestment from the University, Students for Environmental Concerns is the oldest environment student organization on campus. Their most recent project, “Skip the Bag,” is a campaign that advocates for the switch from plastic bags to reusable bags in the community.

Students for Environmental Concerns promotes environmental advocacy, education and activism by working with businesses such as the Illini Union Bookstore, Country Market and the Fifth and Hill neighborhood of Champaign.

Hannah Gutierrez, junior, is the student board representative for Students for Environmental Concerns, who works to organize in ways they think the community needs to be more sustainable.

“We’ve noticed that there’s a lot of littering with plastic bags, and it’s also plastic bag waste not just on campus but within the residential community,” Gutierrez said. “It’s not only an aesthetically displeasing thing to see when there’s plastic bags all over the place, but it’s also just harmful for the ecology of this community.”

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    Gutierrez said it all begins with finding ways to educate and move people with what is “tangible” for them. The sustainable business committee has been working on how to reduce campus plastic bag usage while educating the community about the benefits of stopping the use of plastic bags.

    “We wanted to work on that because it’s something tangible for people to change their habits,” Gutierrez said. “And we’re not asking people to go get renewable energy in their homes, we’re asking people to stop using plastic bags.”

    Sohinee Oswal, junior in ACES, is the sustainable business chair in Students for Environmental Concerns. Oswal’s other concern is the harming of wildlife caused by plastic bags because they don’t quickly or fully decompose.

    “We feel like we’re students ourselves, so we think that it would be really impactful to help students reduce their plastic bag usage, and it’s also easier for us to have awareness events that reach out to students,” Oswal said.

    The political action committee plans to get in touch with the community through city council meetings to see if they would prefer a plastic bag ban or tax.

    Last spring, Students for Environmental Concerns won a $20,000 grant from the Student Sustainability Committee to reduce plastic bag use on campus. Ultimately, the goal would be for businesses on campus, like the Union and the Illini Union Bookstore, to no longer give out plastic bags, but for students to use reusable ones instead.

    “With these $20,000 it could be used as a trial run to see how the Union can actually put in effect that transition of moving away from plastic bag usage,” Gutierrez said.

    With the renovation of the Illini Union Bookstore last fall, there was limited storage room to begin to keep the proposed reusable bags and implement their use. Along with the TIS bookstore closing, the Illini Union Bookstore experienced an increase in traffic and was unable to go forward with the switch. Now that the transition period has settled, hopes to begin the trial run are back in session.

    Mecca Muhammad, junior in LAS, is a rush cashier at the Illini Union Bookstore. Muhammad feels like the switch will change people’s consumer habits. Working at the bookstore, Muhammad has seen cases where people will have a “near-empty” backpack but will still want a bag.

    “The reusable bag makes you have to stop and think for a second and say ‘do I wanna carry this extra bag?’” Muhammad said. “I feel like it’ll sway a lot more students to put their books that they purchase in their backpack instead.”

    If the trial run is successful, meaning that there is a significant number of students using reusable bags that have either been given out or bought, Students for Environmental Concerns can then move forward to talk to the Student Union Board and propose the complete switch to reusable bags.

    “In some ways, you can say that we are in the market research development phase of the project,” Gutierrez said.

    The vision for this campaign is not only to go beyond not seeing “plastic bags on the Quad after Quad Day” but also spread this message at a national level.

    “I would imagine us becoming more so an example of sustainability for other college campuses, and I envision it being student pride,” Gutierrez said.

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