Whitman bookstore sacks plastic, adopts bagless policy

Rose Woodbury

Illustration: Julie Peterson

On Thursday, Nov. 29, the bookstore formalized a policy it had been casually subscribing to for a while: it will no longer offer customers plastic bags unless they ask for them. And, if customers want a bag, the bookstore suggests that they make a donation.

The initiative was made official in part by the efforts of senior ASWC senator Zach Duffy and senior Sustainability Coordinator Lauren McCullough.

Duffy came up with the idea for the project after reading over the summer about Northwestern University going bagless. He and McCullough wanted to instate a $0.30 fee for each plastic bag, which would be deposited into the ASWC Green fund, but the bookstore decided it just wanted to accept suggested donations of any amount.

Duffy still believes the bagless initiative will be important to the school.

“My hope is that a bagless bookstore will achieve several things: reducing waste from the bookstore, generating some environmental consciousness among students and community members, and eventually: with the institution of a bag-free policy: raising a small amount of money towards other environmental projects on campus,” he said in an email.

Book Acquisition Specialist Janice King believes that the bagless initiative will go over well at Whitman, seeing as many customers already decline to use plastic bags for carrying their purchases.

“[Whitman is] a very committed, green campus so people are choosing not to have bags whenever possible,” she said.

Junior Molly Blust, who works at the bookstore, also thinks that students will appreciate the new policy.

“Even before we started [the bagless policy], a lot of people don’t really ask for bags, and a lot of times they’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ll just put stuff in my backpack,’ so I think it will go over really well,” she said.

King explained that the bookstore employees placed signs in the store so that newcomers understand the policy.

“We have the poster behind the register, so people who may be coming from in town are noticing that,” she said.

Senior Heather Smith, who also works at the bookstore, explained that the store still needs to have some plastic bags, even though it will not offer bags when customers check out.

“Reasonably, we have to still have bags for when people buy textbooks and when parents comes for Parent’s Weekend . . . For customer service we’re not going to not have [bags], but we are asking for a donation,” she said.

Smith agreed with King and Blust that the new policy won’t really change the precedented flow of purchases in the store.

“We’ve never really just handed out bags anyway,” she said.

Senior Andrew Ryan said that while he has used plastic bags in the past when he bought books from the bookstore, he’s happy about the new policy.

While Ryan doesn’t think the policy will inconvenience him or other current students who are used to carrying around backpacks and other reusable bags, and who are accustomed to the general environmentally responsible culture at Whitman, he pointed out that the policy might initially seem disorienting to incoming freshmen.

“I feel like for [incoming] freshmen [the bagless policy is] going to be a big deal . . . because they’re new to college life and they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, they don’t have bags?'” he said.

Ultimately, however, the wider community seems in favor of making the switch: all it takes is a little getting used to.