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Eckerd College President signs pledge to ‘Break Free From Plastic’

By Robbyn Hopewell
Published November 5, 2019
Categories: About Eckerd, Academics, Biology, Marine Science, Research, Sustainability

Dr. Donald R. Eastman III signs a “Break Free From Plastic” pledge on Nov. 5, 2019, in Eckerd College’s Upham Boardroom.

Eckerd College President Donald R. Eastman III signed a sweeping pledge today that will prohibit the purchase of most nonessential single-use plastics using College funds.

The initiative was spearheaded by Eckerd College Reduce Single-Use, a two-year research project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, in collaboration with students affiliated with the Florida Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Students and the Post-Landfill Action Network’s Break Free From Plastic campaign.

“When we talk about developing students into thoughtful, environmentally aware citizens, stewardship is a part of that equation,” said Eastman, who has championed sustainability during his 19-year tenure. “This pledge is a commitment from the College to be the example of what practical stewardship of our resources should resemble.”

The Break Free From Plastic Eckerd College Pledge will be the first and most stringent campuswide purchasing guideline to be enacted in the nation. Beginning on January 1, 2020, faculty, staff and students will be prohibited from using any of the College budget to buy nonessential, single-use plastics such as single-serve beverage bottles, plates, utensils, cups, shopping bags, hot-beverage packets in plastic, plastic shipping and packing materials, plasticated name tags, balloons, glow sticks, glitter and more. Scientific research/teaching needs and health/safety essentials still can be procured, according to the pledge. Further, the institution vows to work with third-party vendors to encourage a reduction in their nonessential plastics provided on campus and to invest in education and resources to help reduce plastic consumption on Eckerd’s campus and in neighboring communities.

“This is a huge step for Eckerd College toward becoming a leader in sustainability,” said Shannon Gowans, Ph.D., a professor of biology and marine science at Eckerd and one of the principal investigators for the Reduce Single-Use project. “When institutional leadership says the ‘plastic problem’ is a significant priority, that is when real change can begin to take shape.”

Plastic pollution is a major cause for concern as more scholarly research shows the environmental fallout from unrecycled plastics growing landfills and microplastics and waste destroying our marine environments. Nations, states and even the City of St. Petersburg have responded with bans on commonly discarded single-use plastic items such as straws, shopping bags and takeout food containers. Institutional prohibitions help change consumer attitudes, according to the data collected during Eckerd’s first year of the Reduce Single-Use project.

“Showing consumers an alternative is a good way to start the conversation; however, it has not proved to be as effective as removing the option to rely on a single-use plastic item,” said Amy Siuda, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marine science at Eckerd and one of the principal investigators of the Reduce Single-Use project. “By pledging not to purchase many of the plastic items that end up polluting our environment, Eckerd College is showing other schools and businesses a path to a more sustainable future.”