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Young people are integral in catalyzing positive change in grassroots movements. In the effort to push for a #BreakFreeFromPlastic, college students are making big moves – and winning! Hear from one of the student organizers who recently succeeded in pushing Eckerd College in Florida to ditch single-use plastics, and learn how you can follow their lead. (Hint: brand audits help!)

In September 2018, the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) together with Student PIRGs released a detailed #BreakFreeFromPlastic Campus Pledge and accompanying toolkit to support colleges and universities in transitioning toward a long-term elimination of all unnecessary single-use plastics. In just over one year, student organizers successfully pushed two U.S. campuses to sign the pledge to go plastic-free. In July 2019, College of the Atlantic in Maine became the first U.S. college to sign the pledge, committing to eliminate all single-use plastics from their campus by 2025. They were soon followed by Eckerd College, which will be the first U.S. college to enact the pledge. Starting January 2020, this Florida liberal arts college will no longer purchase most non-essential single-use plastics using college funds. 

Originally inspired by PLAN’s #BFFP campaign and seeded by Will and Alexandria, two students affiliated with Florida’s Student PIRG network, the initiative was quickly brought to Eckerd College’s Reduce Single-Use program to join forces. Over the course of many months, organizers from PLAN, Student PIRGs, and the Reduce Single-Use Project worked together to get this pledge signed. 

“This was a huge time commitment,” said Alexandria, “especially on top of school and everything that comes with being a student, but this is something I am completely dedicated to so it was absolutely worth it.” 

Her hard work paid off! Thanks to this collaboration with Florida Student PIRGs and PLAN’s #BFFP campaign, Eckerd College’s students have led the way to a comprehensive elimination of single-use plastics through academic courses, infrastructure changes, and campus-wide purchasing guidelines.

Alexandria Gordon is Eckerd College’s BFFP Campaign Coordinator, working with FLOPIRG and PLAN to push Eckerd College towards these institutional changes on campus. One of the ways she has been working on this is through brand audits! For #BreakFreeFromPlastic’s 2019 global brand audit, Eckerd students picked up and audited just under 400 pounds of waste.

“It is always so interesting and rewarding to see the biggest polluters on campus. The two biggest brands that were shocking to me were Coca-Cola and Mars… I truly believe that brand audits are a powerful way to begin making change and love being a part of that process,” Alexandria said. 

Originally from Houston, Texas, this sophomore is double majoring in Environmental Studies and Political Science. After graduation, she hopes to continue doing environmental organizing/environmental justice work – look out world!  

Inspired by Alexandria to push your college campus to go plastic-free? Great news, there are so many resources to help you get started! Break Free From Plastic just launched a brand new Plastic-Free Campuses website. Start there by signing up to join the network! You can also check out the Plastic-Free Campus Manual, developed by PLAN with support from the Plastic Pollution Coalition. PLAN’s website has a series of resources for colleges and universities such as campus toolkits, zero waste assessment frameworks, student summits, leadership trainings, and more.

And finally, some words of advice from Alexandria for other college students getting started. 

“At the beginning of this process, I definitely wish I would have known to work with, use, and trust my surroundings. This is my biggest piece of advice to other college students! There was no way I could’ve gotten this pledge signed this quickly and efficiently if I was only working by myself. Instead, I used the resources from PIRG, PLAN, and our Reduce Single Use Project (funded out of the NOAA Marine Debris Program) to push this initiative further. It helped monumentally to be involved with an organization like PIRG from the get-go, so if you have the opportunity to learn from other professionals in this area, take it! It is also so important for other college students and anyone doing this work to always remember and remind ourselves of our why. At times work like this can seem endless and maybe even impossible. For me, when times got really difficult and I was extremely stressed out and just not sure where this would go, I reminded myself of why I am doing this in the first place. That always without fail encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing, and push for the outcome I wanted. Good luck to anyone else looking to working on a similar project!”

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