Campaign to Can The Coke Contract Gains Momentum

By Joe Culhane|December 4, 2018News, Top Stories|

From the District Student Council Presentation by Emily Jones

Students at Portland Community College have been working to ban the sale of single use plastic containers across the district. PCC currently has a 10-year pouring rights contract with Coca-Cola and it expires in September of 2019. The students see this as a window of opportunity to potentially make a major impact on purchasing policies at PCC. Just this past Friday, the District Student Council agreed with this logic. They unanimously decided to back the campaign to ban all single use plastics when the new contracts are signed.


This is important because of dire environmental conditions like a plastic island that swirls around in the Pacific Ocean, that is commonly known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. It contains approximately 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and is larger than the state of Texas.This is but one of at least 5 of islands of trash and plastic like this across the globe. Drastic reductions of the manufacture, sale and distribution of single-use plastics would have a significant impact on the amount of plastic that reaches the oceans. Portland Community College is the largest higher education institution in the state of Oregon and this plastic bottle ban is in keeping with the 2011 PCC Board Approved Rules of Procurement:


“Colleges are committed to the use and purchase of environmentally and socially responsible materials and products which are fiscally responsible, reduce resources consumption and waste, perform adequately and promote human health and well-being”  


Recently, Portland State University was one of the first in the country to ban plastic straws on their campuses. A plastic bottle ban at PCC would be similarly impactful. Currently over one million single use plastic water bottles are made every minute. Let that sink for a moment (or float around in the ocean in your mind).Better recycling can play a meaningful role in the amount of waste diverted from dumps and our streams, rivers, and oceans but it is more of a symptoms-based solution rather than a systems-based approach. At a systems level, we could remove the behavior and habit we have with single-use plastics, then move towards ensuring the practice of utilizing reusable bottles and products. The school could help support this by providing a reusable bottle for every incoming student.


This latest campaign has worked to get more to the roots of this plastic problem. It is worth noting that for a number of years students at PCC have been a part of the Take Back the Tap campaign, a part of a national movement supported by the non-profit Food & Water Watch. That campaign aimed to ban the sale of single-use plastic water bottles. Through the Eco Social Justice Grant (a student activity fee-funded program), students have helped put water refill stations in all four campuses. Now that this 10-year contract is up, this year’s students intend to ban all single use plastic bottles. There is currently support from the Take Back The Tap Club, The Environmental Justice Club, the Cascade Green Team, the district Sustainability Leadership Council. Students taking Women, Activism and Social Justice this fall, led by PCC instructor Dr. Andrea Lowgren, chose this campaign as their collaborative project.

Emily Jones is the current Director of Student Resources at PCC Cascade Campus and is a part of Dr. Lowgren’s class. Jones has been one of the primary champions of the campaign this year. She presented the case to the District Student Council to ask for their support on Friday and stated:


“One of the most impactful things I have found through my research is that right now students are being charged 10,000 times the cost of tap water to purchase Willamette River water in the form of Dasani water bottles. Gross. Just Gross. Most of our tap water comes from Bull Run which is actually very clean compared to the river.”


We are receiving reports regularly now that say we are in the midst of confronting a global climate crisis. To deny its existence at this point is negligent and detrimental to all life on Earth. This past Black Friday, the US government tried to quietly release a climate report with bleak assessments of the consequences we all need to start preparing for. The thick and thin of that report is that everyone everywhere will be negatively impacted by the consequences of these human-created situations. It largely ties to our consumption, fossil fuel use, and the idea that we can continue on living with systems in place that are connected to the concept of perpetual growth on a finite world. It is time to reckon with this illusion and alter our course as expediently as we can.

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