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Food Studies Students Win Green Grant to Tackle Plastic Waste

Food Studies master's students Sarah Dietz and Yvonne Cuaresma

Sarah (left) and Yvonne (right).

Sarah Dietz and Yvonne Cuaresma, two food studies master’s students in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, recently won a Green Grant from the NYU Office of Sustainability. Each year, the office selects and funds projects proposed by students, faculty, and staff that could improve the NYU community’s environmental literacy and sustainability efforts.

Sarah and Yvonne won a $2,500 Green Grant to create a personal waste mitigation challenge called Carry Your Own! complete with a kick-off and celebratory closing event. We connected with them to discuss Carry Your Own! and what they hope participants take away from the experience.


Tell me a bit about Carry Your Own! 

Sarah: Attendees of Carry Your Own! will watch the documentary A Plastic Ocean and sign up to become participants in a personal waste mitigation challenge. Armed with reusable bamboo utensils and a Hydro Flask coffee mug received at the event, participants will be asked to carry these items with them daily and keep track of their experience via journal entries and social media posts. The winner of this challenge will get a large basket of reusable everyday items for personal carry, shopping, and home life!

Yvonne: The reason we picked Hydro Flasks and utensils is that our general student population is on the go. We understand, as graduate students ourselves, that it isn't always easy to carry every sustainable product out there. So, we thought of meeting the students where they are in terms of lifestyle and creating points of easy sustainable access — our peers are likely to already be carrying a backpack and have space for reusable utensils! 

How did you get the idea for this event?

Sarah: The idea for this event came from the research I am doing for my master’s capstone project on how the food system impacts ocean health. After watching A Plastic Ocean, I felt that other students at NYU should learn more about our plastic waste problem, especially being that the circumstances our campus (and NYC in general) favors plastic waste via single-use items. Yvonne came up with the personal waste mitigation challenge as a way to get participants involved and interacting with what they learn from the event.

Yvonne: We wanted this project to unite and celebrate both individual and collective efforts towards plastic waste mitigation. What better way to do so through a personal challenge and then coming together for a celebratory event!

What do you hope Carry Your Own! will teach attendees?

Sarah: I hope that Carry Your Own! will teach attendees that as consumers, we must act and become part of the solution to the waste problem. We cannot wait around for corporations and politics to do the work of waste mitigation for us! Carrying reusable items around every day may seem annoying or difficult to remember, but you don’t have to be perfect to make a difference.

Yvonne: I hope that Carry Your Own! teaches our peers that taking the first step is feasible and that they have the support to do it. I love what Sarah said about not needing to be perfect. Carry Your Own! is an initiative that hopefully gets people to give sustainability their best shot.

What other steps can individuals take to live more sustainably?

Sarah: There are so many little (and big) things that individuals can do to live more sustainably. Here’s what I collected from living in NYC:

  • Carry your own utensils, water bottle, tote bag, coffee mug, or even a cloth napkin if you can! Once it becomes part of your routine to toss these items into your purse or backpack, it might become your new habit.
  • Shop at farmers markets whenever you can! Many neighborhoods in the city have their own market, and there’s a huge one near campus at Union Square four days a week.
  • If you can’t finish your food, it goes bad, or you just have scraps from prep, try composting them! Some neighborhoods in NYC are lucky enough to have their own curbside compost pickup, and for those that aren’t, GrowNYC is a great resource for finding compost drop-off locations near your house.

Yvonne: Sarah has done a great job summarizing some easy-to-access personal action items! If folks are interested in large-scale impacts, I’d say don’t be afraid to talk about sustainability possibilities in your workplace, organization, home, or other affiliation. Sometimes the buildings or companies that we spend a lot of time in haven’t adopted sustainability yet because someone simply hasn’t brought it up. Because we do spend a tremendous amount of time going to school or working, starting this conversation will eventually affect your own sustainability lifestyle!