plastic cups

Since 2011, Virginia has increased its amount of solid waste produced per year by two million tons.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) issued an executive order March 23 to reduce waste and further clean the environment. Executive Order 77 is designed to slowly eliminate the use of single-use plastics within the state, starting with state agencies and universities. According to the executive order, Virginia produces 23 million tons of solid waste per year and has increased the amount of waste produced per year by two million tons since 2011.

“As a large producer of solid waste, the Commonwealth must lead by example and phase out its use of plastics and polystyrene items in favor of better alternatives,” Northam said in the order. “The Commonwealth must also significantly reduce the amount of solid waste it sends to landfills and incinerators and work with the private sector to do the same.”

JMU Dining services has several programs and policies catered toward environmental stewardship. According to its environmental sustainability page, JMU Dining practices composting and recycling, local purchasing and food donation. The university also has a “Dukes Reuse” program in which select dining services offer reusable to-go containers. Students and staff receive a 25 cent discount for each use of these containers. However, JMU still uses many of the items that Northam has ordered to be phased out, including plastic straws and cutlery, single-use plastic and polystyrene food service containers, disposable plastic bags and single-use plastic water bottles.

Steph Michaelov, a junior chemistry major and former concessions worker for multiple JMU sporting events, said he believes it wouldn’t be too difficult for JMU to implement these new policies because they’ve already been enforcing environmentally friendly practices.

“They also already use plastics in a minimalistic way — they don’t use plastic lids or straws for drinks,” Michaelov said. “However, it’s too hard to say if this order will change a lot because [the] concessions business isn’t as big of a business compared to JMU dining halls.”

JMU concessions also offers refillable souvenir coffee cups and popcorn buckets on the menu, though Michaelov said he thinks they’re too expensive.

“If they reduced the price, it would incentivize customers to buy the reusable cups and buckets,” Michaelov said. “Or, they could just not charge for refills.”

When asked about the executive order, director of communications and university spokesperson Mary-Hope Vass said in an email that JMU’s prepared to make the necessary changes by Northam’s deadline.

“The university is aware of the executive order from the Governor’s Office and is working to comply with the timeframe,” Vass said in the email. “While there are some short and long term goals as part of this order, the university is committed to do its part for the overall health of the environment.”

Contact Nithin Yellanti at For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.