Marshall signs plastic-free pledge

Courtesy+of+Sustainability+Club

In order to eliminate all single-use, disposable plastics on campus, Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert signed the ‘Break Free from Plastic Campus Pledge.’   

“Reducing our dependence on disposable plastic is another step forward in our sustainability efforts at Marshall,” Gilbert said. “This is a project the entire Marshall family can rally around and help our community reduce its overall waste products.”   

The pledge, created by the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN), works to guide campuses towards a long-term elimination of single-use disposable plastics and work towards waste elimination. Single-use disposable plastics include utensils, straws, to-go containers, polystyrene (Styrofoam), plastic-wrapped condiments, plastic shopping bags and more.   

The Sustainability Department Manager, Amy Parsons-White, said the pledge would allow Marshall University to reduce the amount of waste going into the landfill.  

“Plastic can be around for thousands of years, and since less than 30% of plastic sent to recycling facilities actually gets recycled, that adds up to a lot of waste with no place to go,” Parsons-White said. “It ends up in the oceans, in the ground, and microplastics have been found in our drinking water. This can pose a health risk to people and animals.”   

Marshall’s’ Sustainability Club organized involvement with the single-use proposal, which was founded by Baleigh Epperly, club President, and Abi Taylor, club Co-leader, in early 2019.  

The club gathered data on campus and provided a petition of nearly 1,000 signatures to request Marshall University and the food service operation, Sodexo, to observe the demand for a plastic and Styrofoam-free campus.  

During the fall semester of 2020, Parsons-White and 13 club members orchestrated a brand audit to provide data by gathering plastic products from residence halls. The club reported that after five hours of sorting from two buildings, they collected 195 plastic items that could be recycled and 829 plastic items that could not be—adding up to 1,024 total plastic products.   

“To me, the most personally impactful aspect of the petitioning process was talking to students face-to-face, prior to the pandemic, about the plastic pollution crisis,” Epperly said. “So many people had no idea that 91% of the plastic does not get recycled. Seeing people’s reactions when they understood the gravity of plastic’s negative impact on our communities, particularly the most vulnerable, was worth the hours of petitioning.”   

During the first week of the 2021 spring semester, the university received the final piece of equipment needed for its commercial composting facility to be fully operational by March 2021. Marshall University will have the first commercial composting facility in the state of West Virginia and the second-largest university composting facility in the eastern United States.  

“Marshall’s new compost facility will be able to handle all of this waste and turn it into a usable, sellable product, leaving a net-zero cost to transition to compostable, vegetable-based plastics,” Parsons-White said. “Reducing single-use plastics on campus and increasing the use of compostables will change the way that we, as a community, think and behave when it comes to plastics. It will allow our students, staff, and faculty to be exposed to the issues surrounding plastic waste while offering plastic alternatives that they will be able to incorporate into their daily lives.”  

The sustainability club’s next goal is to inform people of the increasing number of petrochemical facilities in Ohio, West Virginia and one specific facility, a storage and trading hub for natural gas liquids, proposed to be built across the river from the Marshall campus.   

Xena Bunton can be contacted at [email protected]