May 24, 2019 | 62° F

NJPIRG plans to get businesses to use canvas bags

While University Dining Services gave students an alternative to plastic takeout bags, New Jersey Public Interest Research Group is trying to spread the use of reusable bags further for businesses in New Brunswick and Highland Park next semester.

NJPIRG’s “Ban the Bag,” a campaign to reduce the usage of plastic bags in New Brunswick and Highland Park, collected about 5,000 petitions last semester to end the use of plastic bags on campus, said Alexandra Schneeberg, an NJPIRG intern.

The petition prompted Dining Services to offer free black canvas bags at the beginning of the semester, which later changed to a $1 fee for purchase for those interested.

“Even with the bag, people are using something to hold their food and their beverages, [as in] straws and lids, and they’re taking a variety of items that need to be either recycled, composted or go to a landfill,” said Joe Charette, executive director of Dining Services, in a previous article.

Lesly Kurian, campaign coordinator for NJPIRG’s campaign, said the organization is pushing Dining Services to enforce and inform students about the option of using canvas bags as an alternative.

“I think the biggest thing is continual reminders,” said Kurian, a Rutgers Business School sophomore. “[That] there are better options, it’s about visibility, continuously educating and keep reminding people to use better options.”

The organization is planning to come up with two city resolutions for the next semester, where NJPIRG would seek to stop businesses from giving out plastic shopping bags in New Brunswick and Highland Park.

“[We will be] working out a plan to pass the resolution and help business transition to using canvas bags,” she said.

She said the organization will be planning to distribute fliers and facts about the harmful effects of using plastic bags to residents and get support from those communities.

“Plastic bags when they get into water [they photodegrade],” she said. “They break up into smaller and smaller [pieces], making it harder to clean up.”  

Plastic bags were not widely used until the 1970s, when it became more prevalent throughout society, said Schneeberg, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.

It was not until much later that the use of plastic bags was recognized as harmful for the environment, she said.

“People started recognizing that things that we’re doing that [are] supposed to be more convenient [are] actually harming our environment,” she said.  

The organization continues to collect petitions throughout the semester, she said, but the most crucial part of petitioning involves educating students about the cause.

“Sometimes people don’t realize why a plastic bag is so harmful — like for myself, I didn’t really know — it’s convenient, that’s all you think of,” she said.

She said people do not realize that the plastic bags they use can end up in waterways, which can harm animals that consume the plastic bag.  

“Students should care about this cause because it affects everyone — it affects animals, it affects us,” she said.

Schneeberg said she thinks people continue to use plastic bags because they see so many others continuing to use them instead of canvas bags.

“It’s socially normal to carry a plastic bag out of A&P or ShopRite, and it’s convenient so our society is so fast-paced that we’re used to using plastic bags,” she said.

She said giving the social norm of a plastic bag a negative connotation can help end the usage of plastic bags as it was done in Ireland.

“It’s hard to create change — specifically change that they don’t think will be effective,” she said.

By Yashmin Patel

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