The Plastics Reduction Partner Pledge

In November 2023, UMass Amherst became one of the first nine institutions to sign the Plastics Reduction Partner Pledge

What does it mean to be a Plastics Reduction Partner?

The Plastics Reduction Partner Program is a pledge, benchmarking, and certification tool which helps universities to first recognize, then reduce, their dependence on single use plastics through awareness, behavior change, operational change, and institutional leadership. Once the pledge letter is submitted, the university can then begin working on the certification process. After collecting and submitting all required data and documentation an institution will receive a certification level of bronze, silver, or green. UMass Amherst expects to submit documentation and receive certification by Fall 2024. The work of data collection and documentation will be undertaken by the Plastic Reduction Partner Certification Workgroup under direction of the Chancellors Sustainability Advisory Committee (CSAC) Zero Waste Subcommittee.  Download the PDF of the signed letter here.

Why does reducing single-use plastic matter?

Excerpt from the Plastics Reduction Partner Pledge Letter:
Management and disposal of solid waste material, especially plastics, has become one of the most challenging environmental problems of our time. Over the past 30 years, as a global population we have exponentially increased our use of plastics. Though plastics have been crucial for progress in some vital arenas (e.g., medicine, laboratories, etc.), many single-use plastics – particularly packaging – offer less vital benefits and have the shortest life-cycle of any plastics at only 0.5 years, yet they make up over 40 percent of primary plastics produced at 146 million tons annually.1 This mostly linear ‘take, make, waste’ economy from the overconsumption of single-use plastics and the accumulation of pollution from this wasteful way of eating, drinking, and packaging poses increasing hazards to our natural environment.

To understand the scale of the problem, a global analysis of plastic production published in 2017 concluded “between 2002 and 2015 we made the exact same amount of plastic that we made between 1950 and 2002.” According to the United National Environmental Programme (UNEP) between one to five trillion single-use plastic bags are used each year, and over one million single-use plastic bottles are purchased every minute!2 According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 98 percent of plastic packaging (e.g., bottles) is produced from virgin feedstock from finite resources like oil. At current production and pollution rates, annual flows of plastics into the ocean would nearly triple by 2040 to 29 million metric tons (MT) equivalent per year, and open burning of plastic waste would double to 2.1 GT of CO2 equivalent.3 The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) found that plastic production and incineration add more than 850 million MT of greenhouse gas (GHG) to the atmosphere. That is equivalent to the pollution from 189 new 500MW coal-fired power plants! On the current trajectory of plastic production and use, 1.34 gigatons (GT) of greenhouse gases will be emitted per year by 2030. By 2050, CIEL projects the production and disposal of plastics could generate over 56 GT per year, constituting up to 14 percent of our entire remaining global carbon budget.

Though supporting sustainably-sourced reusables for refill is the best fiscal and environmentally resource responsible strategy available – even other single-use items could offer better alternatives. Unlike aluminum and glass, plastic is not endlessly recyclable, and over the decades it has shown it simply is not recycled at as high of rates as aluminum, glass, paper, or cardboard – at the bin or at recycling facilities. Plastics also never truly go away they simply break down into smaller pieces, with those less than five millimeters called ‘microplastics.’ They pass unchanged through waterways into the ocean and aquatic life and birds can mistake microplastics for food. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our ocean and Great Lakes.” One million wildlife species are currently threatened with extinction. 33 percent of marine mammals are at risk, as well as 33 percent of coral species, and one of the main reasons for this extinction crisis is pollution, including plastic pollution in our oceans. The ingestion of plastic kills one million marine birds and 100,000 marine animals each year.4 

1 Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3(7), e1700782.
2 UNEP (2018). Single-use plastics: A Roadmap for sustainability. Nairobi, UN Environment / Osaka, International Environmental Technology Centre.
3 Pew Charitable Trusts, & SYSTEMIQ. (2020). Breaking the Plastic Wave: Top Findings for Preventing Plastic Pollution (p. 78). Pew Charitable Trusts. 4 IPBES (2019): Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. E. S. Brondizio, J. Settele, S. Díaz, and H. T. Ngo (editors). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. 1148 pages. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3831673

 

How can I contribute and/or get involved?

  • Opt to dine in! Avoid grab n go (a waste heavy option) and be sure to ask for real plates and ware when dining in at the Blue Wall.  
  • USE your reusable bottle/mug EVERY DAY! Hydration stations are located in every building on campus.
  • Ditch the plastic forks! Instead of using (and trashing) 300+ plastic utensils over a semester stash a reusable set in your backpack for meals on the go! There are lots of reusable utensil sets available, or make your own!
  • Vote with your dollars! Whenever available, purchase beverages in glass or aluminum bottles & cans. If plastic bottles aren't flying off the shelves, sellers will reduce their purchasing of them.
  • Get plugged in! Want to know what's going on in UMass Sustainability? Sign up for our newsletter to get involved!

To learn more about the Plastics Reduction Partner Pledge, visit campusracetozerowaste.org/home-4/about-recyclemania/plastics-reduction-partner/