Chancellor King Phasing Out Single-Use Plastic in New Initiative

On March 5, SUNY Chancellor John B. King announced a uniform policy across the SUNY system to phase out single-use plastics. This policy includes a staged elimination of items such as plastic bags, bottles, utensils and food service products. The stated goal is to reach a plastic-free environment. King stated, “SUNY’s direct action to make our operations more sustainable complements our research and education to create a better future for all.”

SUNY Procedure 5200, effective the same day, detailed the policy. It states the goal to “eliminate the use of disposable products wherever possible.” This includes provisions to fully eliminate single-use bags, balloons, beverage bottles, food service products, utensils, straws and packaging. Many of the deadlines set for these goals come within the next few years, or are stated as “when possible.” There are exceptions where there are not yet alternatives to single-use plastics and during health emergencies and other extreme operations disruptions.

The procedure applies specifically to campus-affiliated organizations, which at SUNY New Paltz are managed by Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS). CAS is an independent not-for-profit organization that outsources operations of the university, such as food service and the bookstore, through contracts with other organizations including Sodexo. It manages and works with these organizations to provide efficient service in line with the school administration.

CAS managed the contract with Coca-Cola to only supply products sold in aluminum cans rather than plastic, and has worked on the implementation of Ozzi reusable containers for dining locations.

Steven Deutch, Executive Director of CAS, stated that “Ultimately, the goal is to be able to substitute every to-go container, fork, knife, whatever, with reusables.” He mentioned logistical challenges in achieving this, particularly in holding people accountable for reusing items. He plans on increasing the current $1 fee on Grubhub for disposable containers to $5, as well as implementing a “library card system” for the reusable containers by next fall. Under this, people will have to use the reusable containers by checking them out with a SUNY New Paltz ID rather than using a coin. This would allow CAS to track container use and levy fees if they are not returned on time.

These changes would apply to all Sodexo-managed dining locations on campus. Krishna Kitchen, which operates independently, does not have the dishwashing capacity to manage reusable containers, and Deutsch views this as a challenge that will take longer to overcome.

The new policy is the latest step in SUNY’s initiative on sustainability and climate action as they seek to propel New York State’s climate agenda, which has been cited as one of the most aggressive in the nation. This has largely been credited to Executive Order 22 and the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. In his ordinance, Chancellor King cited SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry and SUNY New Paltz as leading campuses in the transition away from single-use plastics. Campus Sustainability Coordinator Lisa Mitten has been working since 2019 with the student Sustainability Ambassadors program to make strides on reducing single-use plastics within their Beyond Plastics team.

This team works with CAS and Sodexo to create the change it wants on campus. They’ve been responsible for the push towards aluminum cans, adopting 100% reusables at Peregrine Dining Hall and installing microfiber plastics laundry filters for the Department of Theater Art’s Costume Shop.

Procedure 5200 sets specific goal dates for the elimination of different single-use items and expects campuses to create a timeline for phasing them out with tracked progress. Mitten said that this is a “really robust procedure and policy with data, reporting, goal setting, timelines and deadlines.”

Mitten recognizes the achievements of the ambassadors but still wants to strive for more. “In many cases, what was formerly plastic in campus dining is now paper. Now, is that 100%? No, we’re still working on it. But a lot of progress has been made towards paper.” This work will continue now with Procedure 5200 as Mitten coordinates with CAS and SUNY’s Chief Sustainability Officer, a position which launched a year ago.

The new policy affects all campus institutions managed by the university’s administration. The SUNY New Paltz Student Association (SA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit, operates independently, fully funded by the student activity fee. This means they are not subject to the single-use plastics policy, but they do want to contribute to the elimination goal.

This semester, legislation was passed in the SA Senate to add a new sustainability coordinator e-board position, but failed when it came to the e-board. They felt that a stand-alone position was unnecessary. Instead, they favor incorporating sustainability-focused intentions into existing positions, particularly in the budget and finance position. SA manages and funds all of the 100+ clubs on campus. This gives them the ability to enact rules for them to follow.

SA Vice President Wren Kingsley discussed a potential standard for club purchasing to limit single-use plastics and other environmentally harmful products, such as t-shirts for one-time events. “One of the things that we’re discussing is conducting an audit on club purchasing, going through all their purchase records and seeing what kinds of things people are purchasing… The campus wants to be committed to zero single-use plastics and that includes club purchasing. So, being able to inform students about how to go about purchasing materials for their events sustainably.”

Part of this solution will come along once the third floor of the Student Union Building renovations are completed. Kingsley believes that “the new floor plan is going to be conducive of sharing resources rather than each club needing its own.” This will help to promote reusability and offset potentially higher costs of a sustainability standard for club purchasing.

The SUNY ESF Student Assembly has been a leader in implementing sustainability, particularly with their comprehensive Green Purchasing Guide. The guide lists out preferred purchasing options for many different products to support Executive Order 22, which mandates state agencies to adopt sustainability and decarbonization programs, including waste reduction. Kingsley hopes to follow ESF’s leadership by applying it to policy at New Paltz and with future SAs.

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