CMU Reduces Plastic Bags on Campus

CMU Reduces Plastic Bags on Campus

April 27, 20232 min read

By: Caroline Sheedy

Carnegie Mellon University has greatly reduced the use of plastic bags at checkout in its Bookstore, Tartan Ink and Dining Services' dining locations. The change comes ahead of a Pittsburgh-wide ban on single use plastics that will take effect in October 2023.

Alt Text: A paper bag with a CMU Scotty dog printed on it is full of stuffed animals on a display at the Bookstore.

Pittsburgh originally planned to begin enforcing the ban in April 2023, but announced this month that it will delay until the fall. The university will move forward with plastic-free alternatives immediately. Deborah Steinberg, green practices and sustainability manager in Carnegie Mellon's Facilities Management and Campus Services, said there was no reason to wait.

"We are ready to go," Steinberg said. "We appreciate the city setting us on this path by putting forth this legislation and are happy to be jumping in a bit before it's required."

Steinberg noted that plastic bags may still be used to accommodate larger Bookstore purchases until the university can source an alternative.

Nitya Bhat, a sophomore studying computer science, said the change is a step in the right direction for CMU.

"Students tend to accumulate a bunch of plastic bags on campus and it is extremely difficult to find a vendor that will recycle them," Bhat said. "It's great that we are eliminating one of the major sources of plastic bags in this community."

Steinberg said this effort is just one of the campus green practices her department supports.

"We have several waste reduction efforts in place that are bringing us closer to zero waste on campus such as our composting programs, educational work and outreach. The plastic bag ban is another key step in reducing our waste," she said.

Neil M. Donahue, the Thomas Lord University Professor of Chemistry, professor of chemical engineering and engineering and public policy and director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research said that it’s important for CMU to be a sustainability leader.

Alt Text: A paper bag with a CMU Scotty dog printed on it. The text reads "Carnegie Mellon University University Store.

"It's part of our educational mission and values. The problems of sustainability, climate and environmental pollutants are first order existential problems in the world right now," Donahue said.

He noted that legislation like Pittsburgh's plastic bag ban has helped make huge environmental gains in the past.

"In the United States we have progressively reduced the amount of pollution that cars are permitted to emit by an enormous amount over the past 50 years — it is incredibly impressive. One of the things that drove that improvement was because it is the law — it was required that that improvement be made. We essentially pay a couple of hundred bucks more per car to have cleaner air," Donahue said.

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