If you looked closely, you could see the familiar corporate logos of sneaker retailers, grocers and fast-casual restaurants in the braided cords draped singularly over Francesca Larrain’s and Anna Lindquist’s shoulders—crafty in comparison to their officious caps and gowns.
The two graduates had spent four and a half hours and used more than 30 plastic bags to create a spool of PLARN (plastic yarn) to weave their own “honor cords” to commemorate a college career dedicated to combating the scourge of single-use plastics.
“This is something we wanted to do to acknowledge a contribution we’ve made to the campus community,” said Lindquist, an environmental studies major from McLean, Virginia, who graduated at Commencement on May 19.
Both women spent their senior year at Eckerd College aiding the campus campaign to reduce single-use plastics, and they both worked without the help of a six-figure grant awarded to the College by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program.
Larrain, an International Business graduate from Hollywood, Florida, returned from a year of studying abroad in Germany inspired to make one sustainable change to Eckerd’s campus. “Sustainability is so commonplace [in Germany]. Consumers were going to the supermarket with their own bags,” she recalled.
Cities across the nation have enacted plastic bag bans, or plastic surcharges, but St. Petersburg, Florida’s forward progress with plastic-straw and styrofoam-container bans has stopped short of full plastic bag prohibition.
If Eckerd students, faculty and staff had their own bags, they would use them, Larrain was convinced. So she began a six-month campaign to rally funding for 100% cotton bags to give to the Eckerd community.
She joined forces with the Eckerd College Organization of Students (ECOS) Environmental Responsibility Committee (ERC) and personally garnered sponsorship from ECOS, the Office of Sustainability, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Eckerd College, Athletics, Bon Appétit, the ELS Language Center at Eckerd College, C&W Services, the International Student Association, Turtle Moon Graphics, the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College, the Office of Career Services, the Office of Service-Learning, The John M. Bevan Center for Academic Excellence, the Office of the Dean of Faculty, and Residence Life and Waterfront programs.
In January 2019, Larrain and the ECOS ERC received the first shipment of #EcoEckerd bags, which then were distributed to the offices that had contributed and to students at three brand-new sustainability-themed events.
More than 100 students lined up in the GO Pavilion on Feb. 9 to turn their old plastic bottles and tin cans into windowsill planters for tomato seedlings and other flowering plants. In exchange for bringing recyclables, they learned about plant care and received free plants. While sunning on South Beach Field on March 30, students were invited to check out donation, internship and volunteer opportunities at local environmental organizations—from Tampa Bay Watch to the Big Cat Rescue. And finally, on April 20, students played games at the Dorm Olympics to raise their “Green IQ.”
Each event doubled as a distribution point for the #EcoEckerd bag.
“We didn’t want to mass distribute the bags,” Larrain said. “We wanted to create a demand for them and get students active [in environmental preservation] to get them.”
Lindquist, who works to lead a zero-waste lifestyle, also wanted to move the Eckerd community against plastics. She used discarded waste on campus to create an art installation showing that plastic has a life beyond its initial purpose. The sculpture originally hung in the Elliott Gallery of The Helmar and Enole Nielsen Center for Visual Arts, but when it came time to move it, she found a supporter at the top.
“President [Donald] Eastman told me he wanted it to hang right outside the Starbucks (in the James Center for Molecular and Life Sciences,” Lindquist explained. “When it went up, I was hoping people would see it and think.”
The piece hung for several weeks, and a video documenting the making and mounting of the installation was a finalist in the Planet Forward Storyfest Competition at George Washington University this spring.
Larrain and Lindquist said they hope their legacy at Eckerd College will be turning campus culture toward a more sustainable future. “I want to continue to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the natural world,” Larrain said. “I want to come up with better ideas and ways to eliminate single-use products and change the culture of consumption.”
Sophomore Alex Gordon, an environmental studies and political science major from Houston, Texas, will take the helm of the #EcoEckerd bag program next school year. “I’m really excited about what we can do,” she mused.