Campus & Community

University bookstore aims to reduce plastics with new Borrow-a-Bag program

Diamonds are forever; plastics are too. When DU Bookstore Supply Buyer Dave Beaumont realized that, he decided to do something about it.

Last year Beaumont and his son Ryan, 7, read aTIME Magazine article about ways to help the planet. When they got to “just say no to plastic bags,” Beaumont thought about the 25,000 bags the bookstore orders every year.

His quest to change became both a personal and professional mission. He helped his son start abusiness making and selling cotton totes, and he implemented the Borrow-a-Bag program at the DU Bookstore.

Bookstore customers can either borrow a cotton bag and return it to a collection bin located just outside the bookstore, or they can buy a bag for just $2.99.  He says being mindful of using plastic bags feels good. And, it’s a first step toward being green.

“Once you get it down it’ll open the door for the second step. A little bit of thought goes a long way.”

Beaumont has learned a lot about plastics since thatTIME article. He found out that in the U.S. 63 pounds of plastic packaging per person goes to landfills every year. Recycling isn’t a great option, either, because most plastics can only be recycled once or twice.

What really disturbed him was learning about plastics ending up in the oceans. Plastics never biodegrade; they just break down into smaller pieces. Scientists at the Algalita Marine Research Foundation discovered that broken, degraded plastic pieces outweigh surface zooplankton in the central north Pacific by 6-to-1. How the plastic affects those microscopic animals, and whether plastics are going up the food chain to humans are questions scientists are beginning to ask.

At DU, Beaumont says the program is being well received. Of the 500 bags cloth ordered in mid-March, about 120 were sold and another 100 were borrowed. The program will expand in the fall, and bookstore staff working the registers will offer a choice of cotton, paper and recycled plastic bags.

Eventually, like Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage, Beaumont would like to see the DU Bookstore go bagless. He’s working to spread the idea throughout the DU campus and is sharing it with other college stores as well.

Beaumont says the average American shopper is responsible for 1,000 plastic bags per year. Marcus Eriksen, the Director of Research and Education at Algalita, says reducing consumption of plastics, even in a small way, can have a big impact on reducing pollution and eventual consumption by marine life. He says the Borrow-A-Bag program is a good step.

For Beaumont that step is about changing the mindset.

“Let this be a stepping stone to rethink how you consume one-time use plastics,” Beaumont says.

Lara Robinson (BA ’95, MAS ’07) wrote her graduate thesis on the economics of reducing plastic bag consumption in Colorado. Although she focused on single-use bags  (the flimsy grocery store variety), she says reducing the use of DU Bookstore plastic bags, which are more durable and manufactured using more petroleum products, requires a “cultural shift.”

“The bookstore has a much higher chance of getting people on board because people know what they’re going to buy when they go in,” Robinson says. Unlike mall shoppers who are making impulsive purchases, students go into the store for needed supplies.

She says college is a good time to introduce new ideas, just when young people are establishing their shopping habits.

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