A new program aims to reduce the number of plastic bags used at the Penn State Bookstore. The program, called EcoCoin, will launch initially on the University Park campus this summer. The program is supported by the Penn State Bookstore, Sustainability Institute, and University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA).
Customers who check out at the bookstore will have the option to take a plastic bag or receive an EcoCoin. Customers can then place that EcoCoin into one of three boxes, each one representing a student philanthropy organization engaged in social impact for sustainable development. Each EcoCoin represents a 5-cent donation made by the Penn State Bookstore. On top of the total amount collected through EcoCoins, the Penn State Bookstore will contribute $500 per semester to each organization.
Sam Anawalt, the director of the EcoCoin program, is a Penn State junior studying energy and sustainability policy in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. He took interest in reducing the use of plastic bags after a fellow student approached him about why Penn State was still using plastic bags in the stores around campus. France, the student’s home country, has banned the use of plastic bags, along with more than 75 other countries.
“EcoCoin has so much potential at this school because it gives the community a choice to reduce their impact on the environment and further sustainable development through student philanthropies at no cost to them,” Anawalt said. “I think our community will show that they care about each other and our environment more than they do about plastic bags.”
According to Paul Shrivastava, Chief Sustainability Officer and director of the Sustainability Institute, one of the sustainability goals for the University is comprehensive waste management.
“A University task force was launched this month to do a systemic analysis at waste streams across the University and provide holistic solutions,” Shrivastava said. “The EcoCoin contributes to waste reduction and is well aligned with our University sustainability goals.”
Jennifer Guyer, the general manager of the Penn State Bookstore helped set up this program. Guyer said she hopes the program will result in half as many bags being ordered by the bookstore. Last year they ordered 161,500 bags.
“Partnering with UPUA and the Penn State Sustainability Institute to drive the message of reducing plastic bags while raising funds to support student philanthropic groups was an easy decision,” Guyer said. “Being a Penn State alumna and working at the Penn State Bookstore, I am always amazed at how the students drive change on campus. I look forward to personally seeing the impact this EcoCoin will make.”
Single-use plastic bags are one of the most challenging marine debris issues we face, residing in the top 5 most frequently collected items for decades. According to the Ocean Conservancy’s 2017 International Coastal Cleanup Report, single-use plastic shopping bags appear again as the fifth most commonly collected item with over 520,900 of them collected by volunteers in 2016. Additionally, plastic has been found in the stomachs of more than 60 percent of all seabirds and in 100 percent of sea turtle species.
“Plastics are a main source of pollution on land and oceans. The EcoCoin is an impressive student-driven initiative to motivate peers to decrease the use of plastic bags on campus. This is a win-win solution that I hope will spread across our Commonwealth Campuses and bring awareness of the plastics pollution to all of Pennsylvania,” Shrivastava said.