UC Santa Barbara Becomes Plastic-Free Campus

By Ben Bezark

It seems appropriate that UC Santa Barbara, home of one of the oldest environmental studies programs in the nation, would also be home to an incredibly active group of students working to release their community from dependence on disposable plastics. UCSB students will serve as a model for campuses around the world, as members of the Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Plastic-Free Schools program.

The program identifies student groups at schools around the world that are responding to the multiple threats of plastic pollution and embracing sustainability. At UCSB, a variety of student groups have come together to call themselves the UCSB Plastic Pollution Coalition. As a member of the Plastic-Free Schools program, UCSB-PPC joins schools in Peru, Colombia, Japan, South Australia, and Spain that have made a commitment to reducing their plastic footprints. To register, a school needs only to have an existing initiative addressing the issues of plastic pollution on campus or in the community.

Last week, students at UC Santa Barbara organized activities as part of the annual “UCSB Reads” program, which “encourages a common reading and intellectual experience for the community,” according to the specially printed forward of the book “Moby Duck,” by Donovan Hohn, 2,500 copies of which were distributed for free at the UCSB library.

The UCSB Plastic Pollution Coalition is formed in part by the Associated Students Coastal FundCALPIRG, the Isla Vista Surfrider Foundation, and the UCSB Environmental Affairs Board. Additionally, the UCSB Reads program is supported by academic departments across many disciplines at UCSB, as well as several community partners.

It is this kind of cross-disciplinary, student-led effort that PPC seeks to support with the global Plastic-Free Schools program. Why students? Matt Gilliland, UCSB senior and Oceans Campaign Coordinator for CALPIRG UCSB, says, “The Santa Barbara community is full of concerned citizens, but they need something to mobilize around. A force of young students that are committed to building a better community will spark a movement. We’ll lead by demonstration—getting plastics off of our campus to show that it can be done.”

In addition to the distribution of 2,500 copies of “Moby Duck,” last week’s activities included a visit by the author, lectures and panels related to the book, and the building of a giant rubber ducky out of ocean trash, organized by the local organization Art from Scrap. The week concluded with a press conference highlighting campus and local community efforts to deal with plastic pollution. PPC’s Executive Director, Daniella Russo, took the opportunity to announce the official launch of the global Plastic Free Campuses program.

Kathleen Reddington, of the Carpinteria City council, spoke about her own community’s success in banning plastic bags, commended the students of UCSB for taking on the challenge, and encouraged the entire UC system to follow the trend. Last semester, UCSB student volunteers collected over 3,000 signatures from the community in support of plastic bag bans on campus and in the community of Santa Barbara, their goal is to have 6,000 signatures by the end of the school year.

“I want to be able to tangibly see the effects of my work,” says Ryan McInerney, a senior in environmental studies and political science, who joined student volunteers in helping to gather signatures on Friday. Ryan has researched and written about the issues of plastic pollution, but is happy to be outside, engaging peers in the issue, and working to take action.

In the coming months, UCSB will host a variety of activities on campus, including “Day Without a Bag,” a reusable bag swap, and a sustainable vendors fair. In addition, UCSB is working on installing hydration stations across the campus. Two pilot stations have been installed, and a proposal for 40 more across the campus is being developed.

“The PPC provides an outlet for us to show the rest of the world that a plastic-free campus is a very tangible goal.” Says Ally Gialketsis, a senior at UCSB and plastics coordinator and co-chair for Isla Vista Surfrider Foundation. “Students are driven and motivated by the issue of plastic pollution, and the PPC is the best way for students to put that energy towards their goal in the most efficient and constructive way possible.”

See a VIDEO of the event, produced by UCSB’s Bottom Line.

Other coverage of the UCSB Reads week:





To Stop Plastic Pollution