Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Students who have grabbed bagged lunches in Tarble have noticed the missing bottled water and paper bag packaging, this semester. Earthlust considers its No Bottled Water a successful mark of their activist presence on campus, along with other environmental initiatives.
This No Bottled Water campaign began when Earthlust members approached Linda McDougall, director of Dining Services, about eliminating bottled waters in bagged lunches. Natali Cortes ’13, a member of Earthlust, explains that this idea originated from a workshop they attended at the Power Shift Conference at Penn State University last semester about eliminating water bottles.
The impact of cutting plastic water bottles is significant, even at a small college like Swarthmore. Cortes reasoned, “Swarthmore uses roughly 11,000 water bottles a year in bagged lunches, and [the initiative] seemed like a clear way to cut back….I just don’t think we have the right to generate so much avoidable waste when we’re not even the ones feeling the consequences of it.”
Cortes said, “I think students are generally understanding of the change, and have reacted favorably. I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from students, and had some really good discussions with people who have approached me with their concerns.”
But one student, Rakan Nimr ’12 said, “Basically, it’s almost as if Earthlust is forcing everyone who may not be as environmentally-conscious as they are to conform to a set of standards that seem ridiculous…College students are already broke, so being forced to buy a reusable bottle or canteen is unfair. Yes, they may be inexpensive, but every little thing adds up. Wasn’t it enough that everyone recycled the plastic bottles after finishing them?”
Other students are beginning to accept these changes, believes Jamie Layton, a Dining Services staff member who swipes students’ cards. She says that several students complained when the change was initially enacted. But now, they seem to have adjusted. The money saved from purchasing bottled water and other recent green changes have gone back in to the food budget for purchasing relevant products, such as igloo coolers.
Other Earthlust and Dining Services partnerships have focused on reusing coffee mugs. Last year, the Mug Board was placed by the Sharples coffee station to encourage reusing coffee mugs. The coffee bars now also give a ten-cent discount for students using their own mug.
Earthlust is preparing for another outreach program, entitled GreenMarch!. This month-long program focuses on “cross-collaboration and dialogue between diverse student groups and academic disciples to highlight the intersectionality and interdisciplinary nature of environmental justice and sustainability,” as laid out in its mission statement.
Working closely with SusCom, Earthlust wants to address other sustainability projects around campus. According to Robertson, potential ideas include “using cloth instead of paper towels to wipe down machines in the weight room, investigating and putting an end to the mass-delivery of Verizon phone books that no one uses, having the college purchase more environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies, discouraging excessive elevator use, purchasing a curtain for the loading dock, and more.”
Earthlust also anticipates working with SusCom, Good Food, Environmental Justice, and the Green Advisors “to improve labeling and accessibility of recycling and composting receptacles and awareness of what happens to things that we throw into each bin,” Robertson said.
Cortes says, “Earthlust’s big challenge for the new year will be keeping up the great momentum we have going, especially considering how productive the semester we just came off of was.”