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WashU Together’s Plastic Free Journey

In celebration of Plastic Free July, staff and students from the Office of Sustainability came together to participate in the virtual Plastic Free Ecochallenge, inviting the broader WashU community to gather in the “WashU Together” team. Building up on the success of the Earth Day Ecochallenge, this virtual program ended up being the perfect opportunity for the university community to bond while being apart due to the pandemic.

Going completely virtual since Spring Break has made the Office of Sustainability’s summer 2020 internship completely different from the past years. We have missed hanging out in the beautiful Schnuck Pavilion and going out for ice cream outings after work. However, by watching and discussing The Story of Plastic documentary, as well as supporting each other in our respective journeys to limit our single-use plastic consumption, we have learned a lot about each other, as well as from each other.

One highlight of our Plastic Free challenge was OOS Assistant Director Cassie Hage’s yogurt and granola making demonstration through Zoom. She had listed out the cost and the ingredients in an email sent to many friends of the Office. “You can make a gallon of yogurt for the cost of the milk (say, $5)”, she wrote, “If you get the refillable glass bottles, you can do this with zero waste. Compared to single serve yogurts, which also have a TON of sugar, this is a total steal.”

Around the same time, Lizzy Diaz posted a picture of her own large jar of home-made yogurt to the WashU Together team feed, saying that it’s “so fun [to make] and way tastier than the crap that my sister buys,” to which Alexis Tinoco, a captain of the WashU Together team, replies humorously, “Hey Cassie, it looks like you and Lizzy have something in common”.

Many of us have given a try to yogurt and granola making following Cassie’s demo. While there have been mixed results, most have succeeded and have now incorporated this practice into our cooking routines!

Learning about plastic and taking action to phase it out of our lives has been fun, rewarding, but also challenging. Taking a close look at our consumption makes us realize that plastic is everywhere, and that we are highly dependent on it.

However, the Plastic Free EcoChallenge has a motto, a quote from Anne-Marie Bonneau, notable zero-waste chef: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Thus, every single step counts, from reusing a glass jar for making yogurt to going plastic-free in your bathroom. Kickstarting our plastic free journey does not have to be an extravagant affair, because any effort is better than no effort.

In the end, the WashU Together team in the Plastic Free Challenge culminated with 57 members and 7960 points. We ranked 24th out of more than three hundred teams! For all of the participants, this year’s Plastic Free July has definitely been a unique one, and hopefully one that will stay memorable, as we continue in on our journeys to #breakfreefromplastic.

Impact of WashU Together in the Plastic Free Ecochallenge

This article was written by Jarea Fang, Communication Associate at the Office of Sustainability.