We have compiled this list of resources to support Princeton University students, faculty and staff as they navigate challenges related to sustainability and COVID-19 at this moment in time.
Access the latest University updates, guidance and policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sustainable Virtual Events/Activities
What we buy and how we dispose of it has profound implications for people and ecosystems locally and globally. One key action area in Princeton University’s Sustainability Action Plan is aimed at reducing waste and expanding sustainable purchasing.
Part of responsible consumption also includes ensuring diversity in the vendor pool and addressing social and environmental justice dimensions of products and services. Such concerns can encompass resource extraction, manufacturing, labor and/or disposal practices.
Be thoughtful about giveaways:
Long-distance giveaways still produce waste somewhere!
When planning a giveaway, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the purpose of the giveaway item(s)? What value does it bring to participants/attendees?
- Who is receiving the item(s)? Do they have a choice to opt-in or out of receiving it?
- Can the item(s) be sourced responsibly? Who makes the item, what is it made from, and where is it made?
- How is the item(s) being shipped to participants/attendees? Can it be done in a way to minimize carbon emissions ?
- Order items without dates printed on them so that they can be reused for annual events and don’t feel “dated”.
- Reuse existing items (e.g., decorate past giveaways, screenprint past participants’ T-shirts, etc.).
Instead of buying on Amazon or from big box stores (we know, it’s convenient…) – see if that product is sold by a local business (even if it costs a few dollars more). Not only does that help a small business, but it also helps the environment by reducing the amount of packaging materials and the impact that expedited shipping can have on the earth. Supporting small businesses, especially those local to your area can have a huge impact on the local economy. COVID-19 has impacted thousands of small businesses and they need our support more than ever. We also encourage you to buy from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) owned businesses, whenever possible.
If you must buy from Amazon, here are a few eco-conscious tips:
Get Plastic-Free Packaging
- All you need to do to receive plastic-free packaging on Amazon is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or use their chat option and request that future orders be plastic-free with minimal packaging. This information will be saved to your account.
Opt for Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging
- You can also opt for frustration-free packaging which is basically products that are designed and tested to ship without any extra Amazon packaging. Search “frustration-free packaging” in the Amazon search bar and products that are eligible will show up.
Choose no-rush shipping
- This will help reduce the carbon footprint of your orders and when you choose no-rush shipping, Amazon will add a $1 digital reward to your account that you can use to purchase ebooks, digital music, videos and apps. (U.S. only.)
Reuse or Recycle shipping
- You can make shopping from Amazon a little more eco-friendly by dedicating yourself to start holding onto and reusing the packaging material your products come shipped in. Cardboard boxes can be reused to keep items in storage, or reused for gifting purposes, craft projects, cat palaces, and more! When you're done with the cardboard box, make sure you break them down, remove the tape and recycle them!
Sustainable Vendors & Discounts
PLAN Discounts and Zero Waste Resources
Princeton University is a member of the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) network of over 80 campuses across the country. PLAN cultivates, educates, and inspires the student-led zero waste movement. The organization informs students about the waste crisis and equips them with the necessary skills and resources to implement solutions to waste on their campus communities.
All Princeton students, faculty and staff are able to access the Member Resources and Discounts on the PLAN website by registering. Resources include workshops and webinars, the annual zero waste conference, manuals and guides on several zero waste programs and discounts on eco-friendly products.
PLAN’s Partner Discount Directory
From B-corps to 1% for the Planet members, PLAN partners with socially responsible companies to provide campuses with purchasing discounts on products and services to help foster program success. These can be accessed by individual students, by departments, or by campuses ordering in bulk. View the PLAN Discount Directory to view all the available vendors and discounts.
Please contact email@example.com with any questions about PLAN or the membership benefits.
Other Recommended Vendors
Whenever possible, purchase clothing materials made in the USA from sustainable materials such as organic or recycled cotton and/or hemp. Transparency in the supply chain is also key, so look for information about the manufacturing process and other details on the vendor website.
Where we buy our EcoReps t-shirts! TS Designs is a North Carolina screen printing company committed to sustainability. They offer unique t-shirt brands that focus on local, transparent supply chains. TS Designs can ship to individual addresses; service fee is around five dollars and includes shipping and packaging.
At the time of this publication: Minimums for t-shirts are 200 for dyed orders and 100 for un-dyed orders. Approximate cost for 100 shirts, un-dyed, two colors: $11.72 per shirt. Approximate cost for 200 dyed t-shirts, two colors: $12.95 per shirt. For additional quotes and more information, contact TS Designs.
Has several eco-friendly options and can ship to individual addresses ($5 per domestic shipment, $15 per int'l. shipment). Here's one of their most sustainable options: USA-made organic hemp/cotton.
Reusable Mask Tips
Use reusable cloth face coverings made from natural vs. synthetic materials like organic or recycled cotton or hemp (the more sustainably produced the better!) Cloth masks are easier to clean, more durable and help reduce waste from disposable masks. Discarded single-use masks and gloves are already washing up on shorelines and littering the seabed. Make sure if you do use single-use masks or gloves that you dispose of them in a trash/landfill bin!
Reusable Cloth Masks
LooptWorks Upcycled Face Masks made in Portland and LA. LooptWorks masks meet the WHO standards that EHS recommends (two layers of materials).
All the materials used to create Looptworks products at one time were headed to the landfill, or worse. We intercept and utilize these industry excess materials, transforming them into new, useful products — a process known as upcycling. Our sustainable, eco-friendly products are made in limited editions, and in the process save materials from landfills or incinerators.
Choosing to support upcycled goods over products made using virgin materials, keeps quality excess from being disposed of. In the process, limited natural resources are conserved and carbon emissions are reduced.
Can ship to individual addresses, no minimum order but bulk order discounts start at 250 at $7.00 per mask.
TS Designs A selection of mask options made from our upcycled t-shirts as well as new U.S. cotton yardage. Because of the broad range of options we offer, prices vary. Masks are made at our partner facilities here in North Carolina. All of our custom printed masks are made at Trotters Sewing Company in Asheboro, North Carolina and all upcycled masks are made 20 minutes down the road at Fuller Specialty here in Burlington, North Carolina. TS Designs can ship to individual addresses; service fee is around five dollars and includes shipping and packaging. 100 minimum custom mask order. Estimated cost $7.95 per mask.
There are also a number of small businesses on Etsy and other platforms where you can buy individual or bulk order masks. Look for cloth masks made from organic or recycled materials when possible.
How to make your own mask
You just need some thread and a needle (or sewing machine), scissors, fabric (about two 10x8 inch sheets, depending on which tutorial you use) and extra fabric, elastics (7 inch), or clean shoe-laces for the loops. You can also use rubber bands or hair ties for elastic replacement options.
There are several resources online for DIY masks, here are just a few:
- Video: How To Make A Fabric Face Mask At Home
- How to Sew a Fabric Face Mask: A sewing pattern to use with common household materials
- Mask Making Tutorial & Materials
How to repair your mask
Student group Mend created a Repair playlist with helpful videos for repairing a number of clothing items and sewing tips that can be used for repairing your mask.
Mend is also planning to offer one-on-one sewing tutorials over Zoom this semester. For more information, make sure you follow them on Instagram @tigers_who_mend.
How to wash your mask
The CDC recommends washing your reusable masks after every use. To make your masks last longer, we recommend hand-washing and air-drying them (dryer heat can damage elastic!) to save energy and water. Dr. Bronner’s castile soap works up a sudsy lather and is made with all-natural, organic ingredients that won’t irritate your skin or your senses. Make sure to completely dry the mask after washing. Lay flat and allow to completely dry. If possible, place the mask in direct sunlight.
Marks can also be washed in a washing machine with regular detergent and dried with your regular laundry. While it is true that elastic could eventually be damaged by heat, it is still fine to use a dryer.
EHS strongly recommends NOT using bleach to clean face coverings. Not only is it a respiratory irritant, a skin irritant, and something that can harm your eyes in the event of a splash, but it will discolor the mask. They also warn against using strongly scented detergent, soap, or dryer sheets for those who may be sensitive to perfumes.
How to Sanitize Sustainably
Green Seal has curated EPA’s list of recommended disinfectants for COVID-19 to help you identify those with safer active ingredients, below. When considering EPA’s list, Green Seal recommends choosing products with the following active ingredients:
ethyl alcohol (also called ethanol or just alcohol)
**The combination of hydrogen peroxide and peroxyacetic acid is a designated AOEC asthmagen, so avoid products that contain both.
It’s not necessary or recommended to wear gloves as a virus prevention measure; it can actually be worse, because people still touch things and then touch their face or phone. Better to just use a pen to push an elevator button or just wash your hands.
Using Reusables Safely
There’s no inherent reason that a disposable plastic cup or utensil is less likely to be contaminated than its reusable counterpart, say health experts. Ironically, they point out, a study examining the persistence of the virus on various surfaces found that it remained infectious for the longest amount of time on plastic. When you think of it that way, your favorite mug might seem even more appealing. After all, it’s your mug. You control it; you know who touches it; and you’re responsible for keeping it clean.
Are disposable products safer than reusable ones?
Short answer: No.
Even though odds of getting the virus from surfaces are extremely low, based on how long the virus lasts on surfaces and typical consumer and worker behavior - disposable products are not safer than reusable ones. The virus lasts up to 24 hours on paper and cardboard and between 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel.
COVID-19 can be found on both disposable and reusable materials, and plastic is one of the materials on which it survives longest. In theory, any object brought into a public space either by customers or workers could have the virus on it. Customer’s purses, wallets, credit cards and clothing also touch surfaces. However, they are not temporarily restricted like reusable bags in some places. This points to the inconsistencies, and also lack of rationale and science, which are driving these restrictions.
The virus can last the longest (2-3 days) on plastic. Single-use products like plastic cups, plastic-wrapped utensils, or plastic bags are handled by several retail workers before reaching the customer. Whereas, reusable products provided by a retailer, like cups, utensils, and to-go containers, must be adequately cleaned and sanitized according to food safety regulations.
Watch this video from epidemiologist Dr. Ben Locwin to learn more.
There is no research to support single-use disposables as a safe option for dining, and businesses need sustainable resources now more than ever. Not only does single-use stuff burden businesses with ongoing costs and waste to manage, it does NOT inherently protect the health of those who use the products, nor of those who have to handle the waste or house it in their communities, once disposed of. Reference
What can I do about all the single-use disposable waste caused by COVID-19?
- Reduce your own personal single-use disposable waste by utilizing reusables like utensils, water bottles, mugs, and bags when possible.
- Frequent businesses that already use reusable products
- For businesses that switch from reusable products to single-use because of COVID-19 ask them to reconsider this switch
- Stay educated and updated on health precautions
New Jersey Sanitation Code
The NJ Sanitation Code does not prevent customers from bringing in their own reusable containers for taking home leftovers, take out orders, and/or use at self service buffets so long as the container that is brought into the establishment does not go into the food preparation area. There is no liability to the business.
Please note that Princeton University's reopening plans require Campus Dining to use disposables in order to meet State rules for higher education. For those of you on campus, we encourage you to reduce your use of single-use disposables whenever you can, by just saying "no thank you" or bringing your own utensils to meals.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, masks and gowns are not recyclable and should always be bagged and placed in a trash bin with a lid. Additionally, cleaning supplies such as disposable wipes, paper towels and tissues are not recyclable and should always be bagged and placed in a trash bin with a lid.
Prioritize sustainably produced reusable masks (see Masks above) that can be washed and reused over single-use disposable PPE.
Hand sanitizer bottles are recyclable if properly cleaned out.
7 FAQs about the Safety of Reuse
PLAN’s (Post Landfill Action Network) Reusables and Sanitation Toolkit
Over 125 health experts defend safety of reusables during COVID-19 pandemic
Does COVID-19 mean single-use everything?
How to Safely Disinfect for Coronavirus
How To Make Amazon Shopping a Little More Green
How to Wash Masks
'More masks than jellyfish': coronavirus waste ends up in ocean
If you have questions or feedback, please contact Lisa Nicolaison.
Last updated: September 2020