Fake sustainability robs students
I love sustainability. I carpool, and I bike. However, I cannot support the university’s recent effort to ban plastic bags on campus. The plan – proposed by Executive Advisor of Sustainability Jake Lyonfields and Green Events Commission members Jennifer Chan and Orma Ravindranath—would harm students and reflects an elitist worldview. Its review by the Bag Use Reduction Committee, or BURC, is dominated not by the students, but by campus businesses, whose interests Jake Lyonfields—as well as the WUSTL administration, which green-lighted the creation of BURC—wants to defend and promote at the expense of us all.
A plastic bag ban does not have to harm students. In fact, such a ban could help them, if students were provided with bags or rewarded for being sustainable. The ban as it has been proposed, however, will hit the wallet of every Wash. U. student for three reasons. First, businesses, which factor the cost of bags into prices, will not lower their prices as a result of a ban. Stores will be adding thousands of dollars to their bottom lines annually at the expense of students. Second, if the ban is implemented as proposed, stores will actually see even higher profits, as Lyonfields recommends that students have to pay extra if they want disposable bags—which would be made of paper—at checkout. Third, Lyonfields wants students to buy their own reusable bags, as opposed to having another entity provide them freely.
But why a fine? But why not incentivize use of reusable bags by rewarding students who bring their own? Here’s the answer: “Implementing a penalty rather than an incentive prevents the loss of money by store locations from issuing rewards to…customers that would have chosen to bring their own reusable bags [anyway].” Despite the fact, then, that stores will already see increased profits, they must be prevented from sustaining any sort of loss, and the cost of using disposable bags, already pushed onto students, should be increased.
It comes as no surprise that protecting businesses is a high priority for BURC; its members include representatives of the Campus Store, the Women’s Society (which runs Bear Necessities) and Bon Appétit. No student-run businesses are included, and one owner, who wished to remain anonymous, had not even been made aware of a ban, explaining, “I don’t know what the plastic bag ban is.” Another student business owner, Harry Kainen of Off The Row, claims to “have not been in contact with Jake regarding the ban.” Other student input is similarly limited, although Lyonfields notes that “your perspective matters… so we’ve developed an online petition for students to sign to indicate support.” Voicing dissent is not encouraged.
The main rationale for using a fee rather than a rewards system is that “the absence of some sort of consistent economic pressure on consumers to change behavior may allow many current perceptions of the acceptability of using disposable bags to persist unchallenged.” If this language offends you, it should. Lyonfields and his advisers believe that students’ attitudes toward disposable bags are wrong, and only by punishing them will they be sufficiently reeducated.
I am not necessarily against a plastic bag ban. However, if the University chooses to institute a ban, it must bear the cost. Instead of students having to buy reusable bags the University should provide them, free of charge, to students, and should replace them if requested. Alternatively, we should focus not on plastic bags, which are recyclable and in many cases biodegradable, and instead on larger issues, such as the fact that the University keeps its buildings lit up like Christmas trees during all hours of the night.
According to Lyonfields, SU President Julian Nicks “could only support a ban if thorough evaluation made clear that such a move… would benefit the student body.” Right now, it does not, and I call upon Mr. Nicks and everyone who has the students’ best interests at heart to oppose its implementation.