A new 25-cent bag fee will be implemented at Weshop next week in an effort to reduce the amount of waste generated on campus and to encourage students to carry groceries in reusable bags. Melody Oliphant ’13 suggested the fee last semester, and after many discussions with members of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Dining Committee and Bon Appétit, the initiative was passed last week.
“I really want to stress that the fee was introduced and designed by students only, not by Bon Appétit and the University,” Oliphant said.
The money from the 25-cent fee will go towards future Bon Appétit sustainability initiatives. Oliphant noted that, when the initiative was first proposed, Bon Appétit Resident District Manager Michael Strumpf and Director of Usdan University Center Michelle Myers-Brown were somewhat hesitant.
“Strumpf was very concerned that students would see the bag tax as a punitive measure and something that penalizes students for not fulfilling environmental idealism,” Oliphant said. “He also thought students would complain because they might perceive the initiative as a top-down, revenue-generating program, [which is entirely untrue].”
Weshop currently gives a 10 cent credit to every student who buys at least three items without taking a bag. However, many students still feel that this system doesn’t have enough of an environmental impact. According to Oliphant, students continue to take bags as they would without the additional incentive, and most aren’t aware that the policy exists.
In contrast, Oliphant said that bag fees have been proven to significantly reduce the amount of waste production. She discovered through research that Ireland enacted a national bag tax in the last couple of years that was the equivalent of 25 cents, and the country immediately saw a decrease in the use of plastic bags.
WSA Dining Committee member Kehan Zhou ’15 said that a similar policy was enacted in China in 2008.
“[The bill stated] that everyone would have to pay for taking a plastic bag,” he said. “At first, the citizens were not very happy because they had gotten used to taking bags for free, but after a period of time, they started bringing their own bags [to businesses]. China greatly reduced the amount of plastic that we wasted every year, and the law is still in effect.”
Oliphant noted that students, by receiving bags from Bon Appétit, are actually getting a tangible good. She said this initiative is similar to the way that WesWings has started charging students for plastic cups for tap water, in an effort to encourage students to bring a reusable bottle whenever they eat at the restaurant.
“I really see the two programs as almost identical,” Oliphant said. “I’ve spoken with Ed Thorndike, who is the owner of WesWings, and he said he used to go through as many as 3,000 cups in a two-week
period. After the charge was implecontinued from Front Page
mented, however, he saw a dramatic decrease—the total number of cups purchased was reduced to 1/5 of the original amount.”
The WSA Dining Committee also wants to encourage students to reuse bags and use more canvas bags.
“Strumpf actually has around 250 canvas bags that he’s bought and, in tandem with implementing the initiative, he’s offered to give the bags away for free to students,” Oliphant said. “He really wants to lessen the burden on students, especially with how concerned they are about running out of points.”
Once the fee is implemented next week, all of the members of the Dining Committee will take shifts handing out canvas bags in the lobbies of Olin Library and the Science Library. According to Oliphant, this will also be a good opportunity to engage with students and ease their worries about the initiative. The Committee members will record the names and potentially also the campus residences of everyone who takes a canvas bag in order to ensure that they are distributed equally across the student body.
According to Katy Thompson ’15, who is a clerk at Weshop, there are quite a few students who already bring their own bags to the store.
“Sometimes people bring bags specifically to carry their Weshop purchases, while other times they just pile their groceries in their backpack with their books and class notes,” she said.
Oliphant recognizes that the University probably won’t see a huge drop in bag use initially, but the organizers plan to watch the program in its early stages, observe how students react to it, and change the fee accordingly. They will continue to monitor the system and have conversations about how to adapt it so that it continues to realize its goals without being considered a punishment on students.
“My main desire for this initiative is to see a tangible shift in the mindset of students towards sustainability,” Oliphant said.