Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

The Campus Store will no longer be selling single-use plastic bags in an effort to make McMaster University more sustainable.

According to Donna Shapiro, the campus store director, the store was selling over 20,000 plastic or tote bags each year. 

“We look at the waste on campus and we look at the plastic bags. Those bags are heavy duty plastic bags. We’re not talking about Walmart plastic bags, because they have to hold textbooks,” said Shapiro. 

The Campus Store has previously taken measures to reduce the environmental impact of bag sales in the past, charging 15 cents per plastic bag. While the initiative failed to reduce plastic bag sales, it prompted the store to look into other more sustainable alternatives. 

Louise Walker, the sales floor manager at the Campus Store, said it took their team a long time to evaluate alternatives such as paper or compostable bags. Each time they pursued an option in hopes that it would pose a solution, she said, they realized that it was much worse than plastic. 

Eventually, she reached out to the university and got into contact with Kate Whalen. Whalen is the former developer and manager of McMaster’s office of sustainability as well as the current senior manager of academic sustainability programs at the university. 

While many at the Campus Store supported the elimination of single-use plastic bags, they also considered student needs. 

“I think my biggest concern was that the thought of a customer coming here and not being able to put their items in [a bag]. So Kate [Whalen] helped us think about the donation bin, where we could take donation plastic bags,” explained Shapiro. 

The donation bin encourages shoppers to bring their own bag. If customers do not have their own bags, they can reuse a donated plastic bag or purchase a water resistant tote bag for 75 cents. 

“The goal is not to sell the bag — the goal is for students to bring a backpack, their own recyclable bag or to carry it in their hands,” emphasized Walker. 

The campaign, called “Maroon is the New Green,” launched on Aug. 24. The initiative is the first of many steps the Campus Store intends to take to make McMaster more sustainable, according to Walker.

“We’re looking at changing a mindset. People are used to bringing their bags to the grocery store but they’re not used to bringing their bags here,” said Walker. 

The Campus Store’s remaining plastic bags, as well as bags donated by the store’s staff have been filtered into the donation box. 

The store’s green team, a group of staff interested in supporting more sustainable practices, is now working closely with a group of students in the SUSTAIN 3S03 course to raise awareness of the campaign and continue to help the store look at greener alternatives. 

The Campus Store is already looking at what reusability could look like in the future. They are working with student groups to create more sustainable products, such as washable cutlery sets and stainless steel straws. 

“It fulfills two things: it’s a student entrepreneur we will be supporting, but also they are reusable materials,” said Shapiro. 

She added that the Campus Store is always open to feedback about how they are able to improve a process. Students are encouraged to provide feedback to the Campus Store regarding their green initiatives at campusstore@mcmaster.ca. 

 

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