Features

Manhattan College Fights for Sustainability

by Caroline McCarthy, Asst. Features Editor

Is your plastic bag’s fifteen minutes of fame worth the 500 years of infamy it will spend in a landfill? According to the New York Sanitation Department, single-use plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes, only to be discarded to waste away for over 500 years, leaving harmful toxins behind to fur- ther pollute the environment long after it’s gone.

Local food distributors in the Riverdale area reportedly disavow the effectiveness of the ban, which was officially pronounced in New York City in October of 2020, despite the threat of a $500 fine. The ban originally took action on March 1, 2020 but was delayed by a lawsuit enacted by plastic bag manufacturers and convenience store owners.

Shor tly thereafter the de- lay of the ban, the COVID-19 pandemic increased the use of single-use plastics for fear of contracting the virus through surfaces. This increase includ- ed the use of plastic cutlery, medical waste, personal protective equipment, and of course, bags. The environmental detriment caused by this exponential increase in global waste will not be measurable until years after COVID-19 is over.

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The ban’s delay was lifted in the court of law in August of 2020, but the Department of Environmental Conservation allowed the delay to continue in light of COVID-19 causing retailers to dissuade customers from using reusable bags.

Belinda Mager, Director of Communications at the New York City Department of San- itation states that plastic bags are not considered recyclable materials in the city’s curbside pickup program.

“In New York City, residents use more than 10 billion single-use carryout bags every year and it costs the City more than $12 million annually to dispose of these bags,” Mager said. “Single-use bags make up about 2.5 percent of our waste stream.”

According to Mager, the sanitation department collects more than 1,700 tons of single-use carryout bags per week, leading to 91,000 tons of plastic and paper carryout bags each year.

“These products, particularly lightweight single-use plastic carryout bags, are a major con- tributor to marine and other litter,” Mager said. “Single-use plastic bags often end up blow- ing into the streets and onto the branches of trees, creating un- sightly street litter. When rain carries them into catch basins, they pollute the City’s water- ways, posing a threat to ma- rineanimalsthatoftenmistake these bags as a food source. They can even get tangled in the sorting equipment in the recycling facility.”

Despite these environmental implications, the ban was delayed due to legal defense reasons.

Manhattan College freshman Katie Rachman saw the need for disposable bags, but believes the delay of the plastic bag ban and continuation of use will only harm the New York City area.

“Though this was just a few months, I think that the delay still had a negative effect on the environment,” Rachman said. “I understand that early in the pandemic, there were many unknowns and that postponing the ban made logical sense.

But, overall I think this was not the right decision and that the transition to paper would still have been effective and possible.”

According to an article published in the National Library of Medicine entitled “Increased plastic pollution due to COVID-19 pandemic: Challenges and recommendations,” demand on plastics has an expect- ed increase of 40% in packaging uses and 17% in other forms of use, such as medical uses.

Paper products offer a more sustainable solution as they de- compose in 5-10 years, but still heavily contribute to unnecessary waste. The New York City Curbside and Containerized Municipal Refuse and Recycling Statistics showed a daily collection of 119.1 tons of paper waste in the Bronx as of February of 2021.

Manhattan College insti- tuted grab-and-go dining at Locke’s Loft to ensure safety while navigating the spread of the virus. Grab-and-go meals were essential to the return of students at the college, though had detrimental effects on the attempted progress for environmental sustainability.

Meals are currently being distributed in throw-away containers differing in materials, some being plastic, plastic-coated paper, or paper boxes. Single-use plastics like cutlery, cups and straws are located in abundance at varying parts of the dining hall and paper bags are provided for the transportation of food to the dormitories, where students are encouraged to eat their meals.

Manhattan College has recently implemented a reusable bag initiative, providing students with and encouraging them to use green reusable bags when traveling to/ from Locke’s Loft. As of Mon- day, April 19, 2021, paper bags will no longer be provided in Locke’s Dining Hall and stu- dents will be expected to use their provided reusable bags.

This initiative, pioneered by Manhattan Student Government Association, is set to not only reduce our carbon footprint but also decrease the workload for the college’s custodial staff, which Residence Life Director Charles Clency has called “challenging.”

“Decreasing our carbon footprint on campus is simply a benefit to us all,” Clency said. “Residence Life and the Col- lege are constantly looking for ways to be more sustainable on campus. The implementation of these reusable bags puts MC one step closer to meeting that goal.”

Rachman, who reportedly uses 15-20 bags/food packaging items per week, 2 sets of utensils a day, and 3-4 plastic cups per week, feels the initiative may not resonate effectively with the average Manhattan College student.

“I think that the initiative is a good step, but I’m not sure if students will use them,” Rach- man said. “I sometimes stop by Locke’s on the go, and then re- alize I don’t have my bag with me and have to use paper.”

Clency urges students to become accustomed to carrying reusable bags at all times, to avoid potential instances of being at Locke’s Loft without a way to carry food back to the dorms.

Rachman believes other options for sustainability, such as encouraging students to use their reusable water bottles, straws and cutlery, may be more obtainable. Manhattan currently has a restriction on reusable water bottles being used at any of the beverage sites at Locke’s Loft for sani- tation purposes. Instead, single-use plastic cups and paper straws are located at either end of the water-filling/soda stations.

“I understand that during the age of a pandemic, sin- gle-use plastics are essential to keeping everyone safe,” Rach- man said.

“On the other hand, the amount of waste per week is incredible. If Manhattan can try and focus on using more recyclable paper options or open up to allowing students to use their own reusable containers, this would help reduce the use of single-use plastic.”

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