The student votes are in — Ramblers support banning plastic bags on campus and replacing them with compostable ones, but the administration has the final vote.
In October 2013, Gabriella Baldassari, 22, a senior environmental studies major, proposed her compostable bag initiative to the Unified Student Government Association (USGA) as the first step in her campaign. In addition to proposing the ban to USGA, last year Baldassari surveyed 100 Loyola students outside of South Side Market to get their opinion on the ban — she received a 90 percent approval rating — and she and the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA) worked with Aramark to gain the company’s support and approval for a more sustainable option. Since then, Baldassari, the campus activities representative for SEA, has worked to gain student support for the elimination of all plastic bags on campus.
On Wednesday, March 26, the plastic bag referendum was attached to the USGA voting ballot and passed with 87 percent student support, according to the official voting results. The voting results were released by the USGA’s spring elections board and were made public on their website.
“It is exciting; it means there is a lot of support from students,” Baldassari said. “The students want to see this change happen.”
While students have backed the initiative, Baldassari said it doesn’t finalize anything. The next step is for the referendum to be sent to Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., for the ultimate decision of whether or not it is approved. Baldassari said she doesn’t know the timeline for this stage, but is confident that Garanzini will be in full support of the initiative.
If Baldassari graduates before Garanzini passes the legislation, she said that members of SEA will take over the project to ensure that it is implemented at Loyola.
Once Garanzini officially passes the plastic bag referendum, Baldassari said she and SEA will then be able to implement the change; she expects all plastic bags to be switched out with the compostable option by next school year. The stores affected by this change are South Side Market and the Loyola bookstores located at both the Lake Shore and Water Tower campuses.
Using Loyola’s recent water bottle ban as a guide, Baldassari expects all plastic bags to be switched out with the compostable option by next school year. According to an SEA online document on the UnCap LUC campaign, students voted in favor of banning the sale of bottled water in the spring of 2012. Starting that same semester, the university began phasing out bottled water in campus stores, officially ending all sales at the end of the spring 2013 semester.
Removal of plastic bags would create an additional cost to students: The alternative would add a 70-cent charge per compostable bag, falling on the students who choose to use them. Baldassari hopes that the removal of plastic bags will motivate students to bring their own reusable bags.
Jilian Burns, 21, a junior criminal justice and political science double major, said she voted in favor of the referendum because of how easy and helpful it would be on the environment if students switched to reusable or compostable bags.
“Think about how many students are here and how big of an impact it would make,” Burns said.
In addition to the Ramblers who voted in favor of the referendum, other students said they would have if they knew about the opportunity.
“I didn’t vote, I didn’t know about it,” said Michelle Kocelko, 22, a senior marketing major. “If I would have known, I would have voted [in favor of] it. I think it is a great idea.”
Coincidentally, Loyola isn’t the only institution currently in the process of changing its plastic bag policy.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, on Wednesday, March 26, Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel openly embraced the idea to impose a citywide ban on plastic bags. The mayoral support came after Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, 1st Ward, proposed the idea on March 5. While no decisions have been finalized, the city ordinance would ban plastic bags in all Chicago retail stores. One of the main points of discussion thwarting a final decision for Chicago, according to the Sun-Times, is whether to impose a consumer tax on paper bags.
“I am definitely really excited that Chicago is doing this. It is an awesome step toward sustainability for Chicago,” Baldassari said. “As an environmentalist, I am worried that not charging [for paper bags] will make people not care as much and that it wouldn’t inspire the same cultural shift.”
According to an online blog post by Moreno, Chicagoans use an estimated 3.7 million plastic bags daily. At Loyola, Baldassari said Ramblers use 1,800 to 2,200 plastic bags each week.