By Joe Garvey

During the fall semester, Old Dominion University students, faculty and staff will notice changes across campus.

Aluminum water cans will begin replacing plastic bottles in vending machines, retail operations and catered events.

The University Bookstore will no longer use plastic bags. Aramark will phase in paper bags as each retail brand partner gets them set up for ODU to order. The Monarch community will be encouraged to bring reusable bags. They will also be urged to use reusable food containers available in the dining areas on campus.

This is the start of the University-wide effort to comply with Gov. Ralph Northam's Executive Order 77, which "mandates that state agencies, colleges and universities stop buying, selling and distributing certain single-use plastic items" such as plastic bags, single-use plastic and polystyrene food service containers, plastic straws and cutlery, and single-use plastic water bottles. The executive order, which was issued in March, says state entities must eliminate nonmedical single-use plastic or polystyrene products by December 2025.

"I think what's really going to be great is having that university or institutional support to help carry those things out," said Andrew Garber, a member of ODU's single-use plastics committee and coordinator of LGBTQIA+ programs and services in the Division of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services (SEES).

The need to eliminate the use of these items is a pressing global issue. According to, more than 60 million plastic bottles end up in landfills and incinerators every day - a total of about 22 billion last year. And National Geographic reports that only 9% of all plastic waste is recycled. Furthermore, at least 8 million tons of plastic end up in oceans annually and make up 80% of marine debris, according to

ODU will begin with a phased approach.

The University's major outreach to students will occur as part of the Unity Block Party, which is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 9 at Kaufman Mall. It's a SEES event led by the Office of Intercultural Relations and includes numerous co-sponsors. "It's basically the entire University," Garber said.

Students will be able to get reusable water bottles and bags made from sustainable materials, which will include inserts with educational information about the University's efforts. Sustainable throw-away procedures will also be encouraged.

"Even in the activities that we're doing, we're trying to make sure that we're reducing plastic usage and that it's about sustainability," Garber said.

The University will exhaust its inventories of plastic items during the transition to more-sustainable products. The move to aluminum cans will be based on supply-chain availability and as plastic bottle inventory is used up.

Todd K. Johnson, assistant vice president for auxiliary business services, said his team is integrating sustainable practices into the dining areas, the University Village Bookstore and vending machines.

"We must foster an eco-sensitive culture through the products we use while still providing quality service to the Monarch Community," he said. "Eliminating single-use plastics will reduce our environmental footprint significantly and support ODU's sustainability efforts."

Michael Brady, assistant vice president of facilities management and construction, said the biggest challenge for his team is reducing the number of plastic bags used in trash cans throughout campus.

"While the University is not required to completely eliminate their use, we are expected to reduce it to the maximum extent possible while continuing to maintain acceptable sanitation levels throughout campus," he said. "One way to accomplish this is by emptying office and building trash cans once they are full instead of every day. We have also placed 24 Victor Stanley Relay trash cans around campus. These cans monitor the fill levels and weights and notify us when they are approaching their capacity so that they can be collected at the optimal time."

The campus community can also contribute to this effort by:

  • Taking advantage of reusable food service containers. Though Aramark will use its existing inventory of plastic and polystyrene containers, students can receive a token at move-in that they can bring to a cashier in one of the dining areas to receive a reusable container. On subsequent visits to the dining halls, students place old containers on an OZZI machine and will receive a new reusable container.
  • Placing trash and recycling containers outside of offices only when they need to be emptied.
  • Placing plastic bottles and aluminum cans in the blue recycling bins throughout campus.
  • Bringing your own reusable utensils and refillable bottles to campus.
  • Individual departments discontinuing the purchase of single-use plastic items.

The University has long been involved in sustainability efforts in areas such as recycling, stormwater management, transportation, minimizing the institution's ecological footprint and reducing the carbon footprint of dining facilities.

To learn more about the University's sustainability efforts, click here. For more about its recycling program, click here. And here's information about what and where you can recycle.

"What's really inspiring is that there's already on-the-ground efforts around sustainability within the campus culture and student body," Garber said. "And I think the new direction, now that it's fully engaging the whole campus community, is really going to generate change very quickly."

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