Environmental Protection Initiative at Columbia rescues Earth Day

By Heather Scroering

Because the Recycling Program will not be hosting an Earth Day event on campus this year due to the prioritization process, the Environmental Protection Initiative at Columbia has stepped in with several plans for the week of Earth Day.

According to sophomore fiction writing major and EPIC President Virginia Baker, the organization will focus during the week of April 16 on simple, everyday ways to be green and give tips on how to make these changes part of a daily routine.

“We mainly looked at what the average person does throughout the day, the main aspects of average living and what we can improve upon,” Baker said. “We wake up, we eat, we drink water, we put on clothes; things like that.”

The five topics EPIC has chosen are fashion, food, water, body care and plastic bags, according to Baker and Regina Dolza, junior film and video major. Members will distribute information on each theme to raise awareness or provide an activity to try.

Activities include a “veg pledge” that challenges participants to go vegetarian for seven days and a water taste test to raise awareness about the importance of choosing tap water over bottled water.

EPIC will also be offering tips on how to make thrift store clothing trendy and reduce waste by using the fabric of old clothes for other purposes.

For the day devoted to plastic bags, Baker said members will give tutorials on making plastic bag crafts, such as wallets.

“We were thinking about how often people end up collecting bags,” she said. “You run to CVS and pick up a bag, and a couple of hours later you run to Jewel and buy something. People just accumulate so many plastic bags throughout the day and throughout the week without even thinking about it.”

The group also plans to produce homemade deodorant from baking powder, essential oils and spearmint, among other natural ingredients. The group hopes to sell the product the event to draw attention to the harmful additives like aluminum that are found in antiperspirants and deodorants.

Baker and Dolza said all information, including a survival guide for those participating in the Veg Pledge, steps for creating plastic bag crafts and the recipe for the homemade deodorant, will be compiled in a zine.

EPIC is also planning a collaborative event April 3 with students from Loyola University Chicago and the University of Chicago at the Illinois Student Environmental Coalition, 35 E. Wacker Drive, Suite 1600. The event, called World Water Day, will raise awareness of water-related issues, including local situations that could affect public water systems, according to Baker.

She said private companies are pushing to gain control of water systems, which could raise water rates.

The event will also focus on water safety and water abundance, according to Dolza.

“This is an issue that’s going to be very important in just a matter of years,” Dolza said. “These are all issues we need to start thinking about now in order to plan, and something people really need to start informing themselves about.”

The World Water Day event will be composed of panel, Q-and-A sessions, workshops and taste-testing events, Baker and Dolza said.

Since last fall, EPIC has been working on a “Take Back the Tap” campaign that centers on global water scarcity issues. The organization has held two taste-testing events on campus to show that there is no taste difference between tap and bottled water, Dolza said.

According to Baker, taste-testers could not differentiate tap water from bottled water approximately 50 percent of the time.

“There’s this misconception that bottled water tastes better and it’s healthier, when in reality you really can’t tell the difference between the two,” Baker said.

As a result of the campaign, two bottle-refilling stations were added to campus buildings: the Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., and the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave., Baker said.

But EPIC’s most recent accomplishment is a bottle-free Manifest. Rather than distribute water bottles at the festival, EPIC will have coolers set up throughout the campus so that attendees can refill reusable water bottles. Baker said no disposable cups will be offered at the stations in an effort to reduce waste.

According to Jill Summers, director of Special Events for Student Affairs, approximately 3,000 water bottles would have been ordered if the decision was not made to go with water coolers.

“[Manifest] is a super visible event,” Summers said. “It’s our biggest event. Everybody comes to it, so hopefully it’ll be a good PR service as well. I think it’s a great idea.”

Baker said one of EPIC’s goals is to transition Columbia to a bottle-free campus with more refilling stations in each building.

Because many environmental issues will affect the earth later on, Baker said being aware and environmentally sustainable needs to be addressed before it’s too late.

“We’re all still young as students, and we have a lot more living to do,” Baker said. “So the choices that we make today are going to impact the world we live in in 20 [or] 30 years. It’s something to think about now so we don’t build this big hole for ourselves.”

EPIC meets every Thursday at 6 p.m. in The Loft, 916 S. Wabash Ave. Building.