President Mandel signs pledge to work toward a plastic-free campus

On May 20, President Maud S. Mandel signed a pledge to further reduce plastic use at Williams, joining 19 other organizations in an environmental endeavor known as the Break Free From Plastic Campus Pledge. The pledge is an initiative of the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) and strengthens Williams’ sustainability goals in accordance with the college’s strategic plan.

President Maud S. Mandel sits at a table signing a document as others behind her watch.
President Maud S. Mandel signs the Break Free From Plastics Pledge on May 20.

The pledge’s specific commitments are to convene a task force of students, faculty and staff to develop a roadmap for a plastic-free campus; to eliminate all non-essential, non-compostable, single-use disposable plastics that have readily available alternatives; to establish purchasing policies that support this initiative; and to evaluate and improve the college’s systems for the collection and management of used plastic-free alternatives. The first target date for the elimination of most non-essential, single-use disposable plastics will be met by July 2025 campuswide, and the other goals will be completed by December 2025.

This new commitment is “the most comprehensive accessibility-centered single-use plastic elimination policy that campuses can commit to,” according to PLAN’s website.

While the primary focus will be on plastics used in Dining Services, the initiative will take into account all plastics used across campus. Some exemptions from the pledge are medical plastics, those used in science labs, trash bags, and plastic-wrapped retail food items such as chips and candy.

The pledge is an addition to environmental initiatives at Williams that have already been in place. Over the last decade, Dining Services has sourced many alternatives to plastics, including compostable to-go containers, utensils, straws and cups. And the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, the Zero Waste Action Planning Group and Dining Services have been working together with PLAN since 2021 in an effort to reduce plastic waste even further.

To facilitate this pledge, environmental studies major and Zilkha Center Plastics Intern Brian Lavinio ’24 teamed up with Associate Director of Dining Services Jeanette Kopczynski to determine the viability of the commitment. Dining Services and the Zilkha Center will dig deeper into the issue to discover reusable products that can replace disposable goods and to identify viable solutions for items that currently have no alternatives, including working with local distributors to find better packaging choices.

Six people stand behind President Maud Mandel, who is seated at a table with a signed document in front of her.
Williams President Maud S. Mandel (seated) signs the Break Free From Plastic Campus Pledge with (standing) Brian Lavinio ’24, Zilkha Center Plastics Intern; Ricky Harrington, Custodial Services Manager, Facilities; Tanja Srebotnjak, Director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives; Jeanette Kopczynski, Associate Director of Dining Services; Mike Evans, Deputy Director, Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives; and Temesgen Araya, Director of Dining Services.

Photographs by Jay Corey

Published May 21, 2024