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Toward a plastics-free UD

Toward a plastics-free UD

Cara Gfroerer '24 March 29, 2024

When Elizabeth Philip was named UD Sustainability Club president in 2021, she knew she wanted to make a difference at UD but wasn’t quite sure how. 

Members of the Sustainability Club stand together holding signs.Philip, now a senior with a double major in international studies and sustainability, sat down with University organizations and leadership to brainstorm sustainable initiatives the club could tackle during her tenure as president. If there was a way to make positive change, she wanted to make that happen.  

Then, Sarah Richards, student engagement coordinator of the Hanley Sustainability Institute, talked to Philips. Richards told her that the University’s 10-year contract with PepsiCo was coming to an end. Philip knew this was the idea she had been looking for.

Last spring, the Sustainability Club sent a letter to President Eric F. Spina to request permission to participate in campus conversations leading up to contract negotiations in hopes of reducing the amount of plastic used in the dining halls. Spina supported their request, and the club went on to start the Plastic-Free Petition, gathering more than 450 signatures from UD students, faculty and staff. 

“It was amazing to see so many people supporting the petition.” 

The petition demonstrated a high level of interest in reducing plastic on campus, so the club’s executive board met with University representatives to discuss revising the terms of the contract with PepsiCo. 

During these discussions, students were able to observe the time and effort it takes to make changes toward sustainability, such as going plastic-free in the dining halls. 

Two members of the club stand under a tent.Club members said through this hands-on learning opportunity they were able to better understand the obstacles, and therefore, the most probable course of action when proposing and eventually implementing sustainable policies. 

Among those from UD discussing contract negotiations were directors from sustainability, dining, purchasing and services. One outcome of the new agreement is that PepsiCo will increase its annual contribution to the University’s sustainability initiatives from $5,000 to $15,000 and this year permit dining services to sell 10% non-Pepsi drink products from local vendors And/or whose businesses are minority- and/or women-owned. 

Making the full switch to aluminum from plastic bottles will take time, but there are now Aquafina cans available on campus, according to Joan Bauman, the executive director of dining services at UD. 

“I was super happy with the results,” said Philip, who went into the discussions not knowing what was possible. The willingness of both the University and PepsiCo to hear the students’ ideas gave her hope for continued progress. 

The University purchased its first set of composting tools and supplies for the garden in Old River Park, as well as equipment used for the solar prairie at Daniel J. Curran Place, thanks to the PepsiCo contribution.

The Sustainability Club’s current president, junior environmental biology major Elizabeth Miles-Flynn, is continuing to work toward a plastic-free campus.

“It was inspiring to see support from over 450 signatures opposing single-use plastics on campus,” Miles-Flynn said.

“I hope this petition inspired and reminded students of their consumer purchasing power.”

The UD administration has expressed interest in other solutions with PepsiCo’s sustainability team, particularly alternative materials for soda bottles, like aluminum. 

“I look forward to seeing how sustainable initiatives on campus continue to grow,” Miles-Flynn said.

Dancing the night away