When Megan Leahy and I thought about reducing plastic waste, we wanted to focus on a kind of waste that impacts our daily lives. We noticed that for both of us, the majority of plastic waste we discard is through food packaging. From Giant to GQ, we noticed that most of the food we buy – even whole produce – comes wrapped in plastic. This plastic amounts to 23%+ of landfill waste, and much of it may also wash into oceans and break down into microplastics. Wasteful food packaging contributes to a host of ecological problems (which you can read about more in our blogs– mine is here and this is Megan’s).
One solution is to buy in bulk. This isn’t just more environmentally friendly, it’s also cheaper. Both individuals and institutions can buy more bulk whole foods to reduce waste. We decided to design a three-part campaign; the first, to raise awareness among Muhlenberg students; the second, to supply containers to the same population; and the third, to convince local grocery stores to change their practices. These campaigns could be enacted together or individually.
The following is co-written by myself and Megan Leahy.
STEP 1: POSTER CAMPAIGN
- Goals: To inform students with a half or full kitchen of the economic and ecological benefits of buying in bulk at the grocery store.
- Strategy: Place an informational poster on each fridge that displays ways to buy in bulk and why it saves money.
- Target Audience: Muhlenberg students who live in a MILE house, apartment, Village, or South/Robertson suite.
- Measurable Indicators of Success: Conduct an Initial Survey and a Post-intervention Survey and compare data; survey students on their purchasing habits, knowledge, and awareness/commitment to buying in bulk; count how many posters are still on the fridge at the end of the semester.
- SAMPLE POSTER:
STEP 2: TABLING CAMPAIGN
- Goals: To raise awareness about buying in bulk and to sell containers to students. We aim to encourage buying in bulk, and demonstrate that it is possible, affordable, and ecological.
- Strategy: We would set up a table in Seegers on a few weekdays over the course of one week, from about 11-3, with an aesthetically pleasing display of jars, information on buying in bulk and the benefits/the problems associated with plastic and food packaging waste, and some jars for students to buy. Students who completed the pre-intervention survey would get a discount on the jars (perhaps $1) and students who didn’t complete the survey could still buy the jars for a higher rate (~$4).
- Target Audience: Muhlenberg Students (and faculty/staff that also pass through Seegers)
- Measurable Indicators of Success: Amount of money raised / How many containers sold; Pre- and Post-intervention surveys for those who purchase containers.
STEP 3: GROCERY STORE LETTER CAMPAIGN
- Goals: To encourage nearby grocery stores to offer more options to buy in bulk, and to prove to them that there is a demand for food with less packaging.
- Strategy: With a club or group of volunteers (EnAcT), call and write letters to local grocery stores that students commonly shop at, especially those that don’t have a lot of options for bulk foods (such as Giant, Weis or Target) as customers of those stores. Request more options for buying bulk food as a further reason to continue shopping there. We would first write letters (one for each store, signed by all interested students–this would also act as a commitment for them to buy in bulk more) and make a phone call. We will display this letter at our tabling event (described above) so as to get as many signatures as possible. We may also go in person to speak to the manager.
- Target Audience: Nearby grocery stores where many students may typically shop.
- Measurable Indicators of Success: Number of letters sent / signatures on the letters; number of Muhlenberg participants; number of responses from grocery stores; ultimately, any changes in grocery stocking/packing practices.
- SAMPLE LETTER:
To whomever it may concern:
As students at Muhlenberg College, located within a mile of your store, we’re writing to you about a local campaign for environmental change. We noticed from shopping at your store that Giant, as a company overall and your store specifically as well, is committed to protecting the environment. We love that we can take our plastic bags to your store to recycle them and that you have reusable bags available as well. We also appreciate how you as a store evolve to meet the needs and desires of your customers (like with the recent changes you’ve made in the types of products you stock).
We are writing to you as regular customers who also share these values to request that you have more options in your store for buying in bulk (without packaging). We believe that plastic food packaging is a major problem, since plastic cannot always be recycled successfully and often just gets thrown away, contributing to either ocean debris, litter, landfills, or release of greenhouse gases if it is incinerated. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, containers and packaging make up 23 percent of all landfill waste. Besides this, we (along with the thousands of other people joining this movement for change) feel that minimizing packaging is not only easier but also more accessible, since people will buy more at a time.
By signing this letter, we students are committing to purchasing more of our food in bulk whenever we shop at Giant, if it were to be provided at a reasonable cost.
Thank you for your continued dedication to the people of Allentown and the world.
[signatures of interested students]
If you are interested in learning more about how to buy in bulk, these resources may prove helpful: