Environmental Almanac

Student group encourages campus to “Skip the Bag”

This year, Students for Environmental Concerns launched "Skip the Bag," a campaign to curb the use of plastic bags at the U of I

Elena: Have you ever counted the number of plastic bags you use each shopping trip? That number is likely around 1,500 bags per year if you’re the average American. More than a hundred billion plastic bags are produced each year worldwide--that requires about 12 million barrels of oil. 

Is this practice sustainable?
Students for Environmental Concerns, the University of Illinois’ oldest environmental group, doesn’t think so. This past year the group launched “Skip the Bag,” a campaign working to curb the consumption of plastic bags on the UIUC campus. Sohinee Oswal, a student active with the campaign describes how the group plans to do this:  

Sohinee Oswal: So, for our campaign on campus, we would like to completely eliminate the use of plastic bags so we’re starting with the bookstore. It’s one of the first places a student goes on campus and really gets an idea of how the University works. 

Liz: The group’s main target, the Illini Union Bookstore, used roughly 36,000 bags in January of this year alone. The issue with this, the group argues, is that, more often than not, these bags are only being used once. The students will purchase their books and carry them home in these bags, only to be tossed instantly. The group is currently working with the bookstore on a proposal to eliminate plastic bag usage. If the proposal passes, the Illini Union Bookstore will no longer give out plastic bags, but will instead sell reusable cloth bags. 

Sohinee Oswal:  So this campaign was started because as students who are really really interested in the environment, we’re deeply concerned about the use of plastic bags on this campus, especially, we’re working with the Union Bookstore to try to reduce their plastic bag usage and shift from plastic bags to reusable bags, and seeing that such a huge source of advertising for the University, probably one of the first stores that students go to on our campus, uses plastic bags was a huge cause of concern for us. So, we would really like to shift our focus from wasting and using plastic bags to using reusable bags and really instilling that in our students’ minds. 

Martha: Of all the bags produced globally each year, only 1% are recycled. This means that nearly 12 million barrels of oil are being thrown in a landfill each year. Even more concerning are the effects plastic bags have on the environment. Plastic bags take over one million marine animal and bird lives a year, either from consumption or entanglement. It is safe to say that plastic bags are literally choking the life out of our oceans. 

Students at Illinois are not the only people who are working on tackling this issue. Cities all over the nation have been making efforts to combat the negative effects of plastic bags. San Francisco’s policies have been the most effective of any region in the nation. Charges of 10 cents per bag were implemented on most plastic bags, while the use of compostable and partly recycled plastic bags were encouraged. This ordinance, enacted in 2007, caused businesses to distribute 127 million fewer plastic bags than in the past, cutting plastic bag waste in landfills by 10%. Because plastic bags are a part of everyday life in many areas, this sort of change acts as a catalyst of change for promoting environmentalism.