In an age of increasing use of single-use plastics, a recent collaboration between Eckerd and University of North Florida (UNF) is starting to take a look as to how we can minimize our impact. This project, a continuation of Eckerd’s existing Reduce Single-Use campaign, has been successfully funded for a second round by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which started a new two-year program between the institutions.
Eckerd’s first Reduce Single-Use project funded by NOAA began in 2018, and is continuing with another grant from NOAA in the amount of $149,928, but this time Eckerd will be partnering with UNF, a university with a student body of about 17,300 enrolled students. One of the primary goals of this partnership is to bring what Eckerd has been doing with the Reduce Single-Use project and apply it to a larger scale.
Ashley Hill, the Florida and Caribbean regional coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program, is working closely with the two institutions on this continuation. She says that these rounds of funding are highly competitive, and it is fairly uncommon for an institution to be funded twice in a row like Eckerd has.
This past March, Hill was able to come visit the campus and see how Eckerd implemented the existing Reduce Single-Use initiative.
“You guys made some amazing changes on campus,” Hill said. “So I think this is really cool that you’re now taking the smaller liberal arts school right on the water, and taking those actions and translating that to a larger university.”
Assistant Professor of Marine Science Amy Siuda is one Eckerd professor working closely on this project, which will include a focus on developing an app. The app will allow willing students to track their plastic use over a period of time and record the data, with the goal of getting students to turn down as much single-use plastics as possible through challenges within the app.
According to Siuda, Eckerd will collect this data in cooperation with colleagues at UNF who study behavioral changes related to environmental issues. Along with Siuda, the Eckerd team of faculty collaborating on this project includes Professor of Biology and Marine Science Shannon Gowans, Director of Sustainability Evan Bollier, Professor of Computer Science Kelly Debure and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Jesse Sherry.
“The goal is to bring what we’re doing at Eckerd to a larger campus setting and see if some of the outreach activities and education we’ve been doing at Eckerd can work on a larger scale,” Siuda said.
Siuda said the team at Eckerd has not worked with UNF previously, but they are very excited to start the collaboration.
Although the project officially launched on Sept. 1, 2020, the data collection and study part of this program will not start until spring semester of 2021. Siuda said that the Eckerd team plans to offer some CPS events and other programs on campus.
Senior environmental studies major Angelina Kossoff has been a student intern for the Reduce Single-Use project since it began in 2018.
“I’m really excited,” Kossoff said. “We’re going to continue to reach out to the campus community and engage within events, and that excites me a lot because I love hosting them and being able to see people engage with us.”
Kossoff works closely with professors at Eckerd on this project by enacting the challenges for the Reduce Single-Use initiative, analyzing data from beach cleanups or water bottle filling stations and other projects that have been ongoing for the past two years.
“It was really cool to see those changes on campus and really see that we were able to make a difference,” Kossoff said.
In the short term, Hill hopes that people become more aware of plastic pollution and utilize the solutions that will come from this new grant. Long term, Hill sees this project going further than the campuses.
“We’re hoping that it actually creates lasting and sustainable environmental behavior changes that, even when students leave Eckerd College, they’re continuing those behaviors,” Hill said.
In the midst of a global pandemic, single-use plastics have been increasingly common and essential, according to Siuda. From masks to vinyl gloves, these plastics have been heavily used in our daily lives.
“We’re sitting here in the middle of a pandemic, and we need to wear masks and we need to be careful about our personal protection as we go about our daily lives,” Siuda said. “That does require some increase in single use plastic consumption, but at the same time, we can just look around and think about ways to reduce where we can.”