Emory University is the first college in Georgia to pledge to divert 95 percent of its waste from landfills by 2025, reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030, and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Emory’s commitment also aligns with the City of Atlanta’s recently enacted ordinance to eliminate plastic bags, plastic straws and styrofoam and sets a roadmap for eradication of unnecessary single-use plastics in the community.

President Gregory L. Fenves met with leaders of the student-led initiative Plastic Free Emory Project on June 15 and signed the “Break Free from Plastic Pledge,” which outlines a five-year plan for reducing unnecessary single-use plastics on Emory’s Atlanta and Oxford campuses.

By 2026, Emory University and Oxford College pledge to:

  • Establish a Plastic Free Task Force to engage stakeholders to enact the pledge.
  • Implement a year-by-year single-use plastics reduction strategy.
  • Continue to use viable alternatives and implement purchasing guidelines to eliminate the procurement of unnecessary single-use plastics in the future.
  • Further invest in education, resources and infrastructure to reduce single-use plastics on individual and institutional levels.
  • Increase efforts to eliminate plastic bags, plastic straws and styrofoam in accordance with the City of Atlanta’s Ordinance 19-O-1418.

A nationally recognized sustainability leader, Emory is the first higher education institution in Georgia to make a pledge of this kind and the only active student-led campaign in the state, according to Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN).

Students CJ O’Brien and Nithya Narayanaswamy co-founded Plastic Free Emory.

“This pledge shows that student-led activism has the power to enact real change,” says O’Brien, who graduated this year from Emory’s Laney Graduate School with a master’s degree in development practice and was a field intern for environmental nonprofit Oceana. “As young people, we know that we must take action against plastic pollution for the sake of future generations, and we cannot do it alone. We thank Emory University and President Fenves for taking this step and committing to such an important initiative in his first year of presidency.”

Narayanaswamy completed her first two years at Emory’s Oxford College this year and will continue to Emory College on the Atlanta campus in the fall.

“Addressing the single-use plastics crisis means tapping into the plurality that unites us, and that is exactly what this pledge represents; Our stories, voices and power united to create change,” Narayanaswamy says. “We are excited to see Emory University take steps towards tackling the single-use plastics crisis.”

“With Oceana’s support, Emory University students have accomplished what no other higher-education institution in Georgia has: They’ve cultivated an independent, student-run effort to phase out unnecessary single-use plastic across campus — and acquired the stamp of approval from Emory University President Gregory L. Fenves to enact it,” said Paulita Bennett-Martin, Oceana’s field representative in Georgia. “Emory students and President Fenves are paving the way for the kind of widespread change we need to combat the growing plastic pollution crisis, and we applaud them for this leadership. Institutions and communities have the opportunity to reduce our state’s plastic footprint and protect marine life, ecosystems and economies. This week, these students have proven that they have the power to effect that change.”

The next step for Plastic Free Emory involves putting together a Plastic Free Task Force to follow through on the five-year plan detailed in the pledge. The Plastic Free Task Force will continue to engage with Emory stakeholders, administrative groups, departments and students, and research viable alternatives to help Emory “break free” from plastic.

Plastic Free Emory is recruiting motivated members from diverse departments, backgrounds and majors for the task force. To apply to the Plastic Free Task Force, visit tinyurl.com/PlasticFreeTaskforce.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.