UMass Dining Commons Must Lose Paper Bags – Massachusetts Daily Collegian


Bag waste is a big deal with an easy fix

McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

The University of Massachusetts has a bag problem. A paper bag problem. Brown bags are all over campus: bulging and swaying from students’ hands as they walk from dining hall to dormitory, flattened in crooked piles at dining hall entrances, empty, torn, stained, bulky garbage and recycling bins. There are too many of them on campus and most are used once, thrown away and replaced a few hours later. This is unsustainable and cannot continue; fortunately, it is also easy to rectify.

As the first two weeks of class wind down, coronavirus cases increase and the campus heads for lockdown, using paper bags may not be on everyone’s list of factors for daily stresses. A quick glance at the numbers, however, can change that.

According to UMass reports, approximately 5,350 students are living in the residences this semester. Assuming that each of these students visits the lunch room an average of three times a day and receives a new paper bag each time, the school uses – and throws away – about 16,050 paper bags per day. Continue like this for a week and the university has used over 100,000 paper bags.

Without even getting into the issue of disposable utensil packaging and the multiple clamshell containers that fill those bags, UMass is clearly creating a prolific amount of waste. What is equally clear is a solution, at least to the problem of the bags: stop distributing them.

Making the use of reusable bags mandatory is the easiest action UMass can take to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, as nothing needs to be done on behalf of the school. UMass just needs to stop providing students with an endless supply of single-use bags.

If paper bags aren’t available to students at common restaurants and retail outlets, they can bring their own or find a way to transport their containers without one. While diners can remember their UCard every time they venture out to eat or drink, they can also remember to bring something to take their meal home.

Single-use bag bans have been implemented elsewhere and on much larger scales. Bans and taxes on plastic bags were established in more than 400 States and cities in the United States, which has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the use of plastic bags, fewer bags used per buyer, and observable improvements in bags as a source of waste.

These laws have been criticized because the manufacture of most reusable bags requires more energy and resources than their disposable counterparts. There are advantages and disadvantages bins of any material: plastic bags are the least damaging to produce, but they are unlikely to be reused more than once and are harmful when, as is often the case, they end up in rubbish; paper is biodegradable and can be recycled or composted, but it is the least sustainable for reuse and requires about four times as much energy to make; Reusable bags vary widely depending on the material, but tend to have the greatest environmental impact up front and only come out on top if used diligently.

For several reasons, these warnings should not affect UMass’ decision to stop distributing paper bags. First, most students on campus already own some reusable bag, so making the switch doesn’t mean everyone is going to buy a new bag and create a new environmental footprint.

Second, because paper bags already have a greater environmental impact than plastic, fewer uses of a reusable tote are needed to justify the change. For example, National Geographic compared the durability of paper, plastic and cotton bags and found that paper should be used three to 43 times to ‘neutralize its environmental impact compared to plastic’, while cotton should be used 131 times for do the same.

The article doesn’t directly compare paper and cotton, but the math is manageable: A cotton bag should only be used a maximum of 44 times before it becomes more durable than paper.

Another potential, but easily penetrable, obstacle to a paperless dining experience at UMass is the misplaced fear that reusable bags could be a source of the spread of the coronavirus. In March, Governor Charlie Baker Posted a statewide ban on reusable bags and the lifting of all regulations restricting plastic bags. As new research into how the coronavirus is transmitted, the ban has been survey and regulations reinstated. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the coronavirus is usually spread by airborne respiratory droplets and is not common for it to be transmitted through surfaces.

Even those who prefer to be extra careful when dealing with potentially contaminated surfaces shouldn’t worry about students bringing their own bags to the common dining room. While paper bags are handed to diners by a member of staff at the entrance, a reusable bag is never touched except by its owner. The food is portioned into containers and delivered to the students through a plexiglass barrier and the student places it in the bag themselves, making it the safest option for health and the environment.

Due to an increase in the number of positive coronavirus cases within the UMass campus community, the school has recently moved to a high-risk operational position, which means common dining rooms remain only in style. to take away for the foreseeable future. As a result, students will continue to accumulate paper bags. If UMass makes the switch now, it will take around two weeks to start making a positive impact on the environment.

The request is simple: do not place another order for paper bags. Use the current offer and move forward in a more environmentally friendly way. UMass named a leader and role model for sustainable communities, let’s start playing the role.

Lily Robinson is a college columnist and can be reached at [email protected]


Ethel J. Montes

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