By Emma Stefanick
Confetti. Something so small and trivial that, for many, it goes unnoticed. But year in and year out, confetti makes its appearance on Ohio University’s campus.
For Era Bakia, a fourth-year student studying biology, confetti popped into the forefront of her mind after she began working for Ohio University Grounds Services. She noticed that there was a drastic influx of confetti litter after graduation, and that inspired her to work towards a confetti-free campus.
“We were literally picking up barrels of plastic confetti, and you basically just have to do it by hand,” Bakia said. “It’s not fair to have our staff and union workers spend a decent portion of their job picking up plastic when they’re trying to make campus beautiful.”
With the help of Campus Recycling, Bakia began her movement. In spring 2021, Bobcat Depot and the College Bookstore removed plastic confetti from their shelves. Then in spring 2022, Bakia started making alternative, eco-friendly confetti poppers to pass out at graduation.
“I thought that, you know, if these are the kind of people that want that exciting graduation photo, maybe if they have an alternative that’s fun, they’ll be into it,” Bakia explained.
She made her homemade confetti from donated scraps of flowers and leaves from local places like Jack Neal Floral, Hyacinth Bean Florist and Homecoming Farms, deducing that plant scraps would be the least harmful and intrusive to the environment. This compares to other common alternatives like rice, seeds or paper.
“Other confetti is mostly made of plastic, sometimes made of paper, but either way it is creating a sort of ecological disaster on campus,” explained Bakia. “When it breaks down, it breaks down into even smaller microplastics and it’s impossible to clean up. Especially in College Green, you will find old confetti buried in the flower beds’ mulch, and there has even been confetti on top of the Schoonover Green Roof. All this versus a teeny tiny fragment of a leaf or petal. The idea is that it’s just going to biodegrade and it’s not going to end up somewhere where it shouldn’t.”
While Bakia is not sure how much waste she really mitigated at graduation, she was certain that people were now talking and thinking about eco-confetti. Bakia thought that if Greek life, a major user of confetti, switched to using eco-confetti, there could be a huge impact on campus.
On Wednesday, September 7, Bakia hosted a sustainable confetti making night in Alden Library’s CoLab to make enough of the eco-friendly alternative for all 10 sororities on campus. Many students from Bobcats Go Green, Sierra Student Coalition, the Plant Biology Club, Campus Recycling and Sustainability Ambassadors showed up to help. Together, they filled 120 confetti poppers along with several jars of excess confetti that will also be donated to sororities for refills.
First-year student Cynthia Bauer said that she’d never heard of eco-confetti before the event, and suggested that it would be a great way to reduce plastic waste on campus. Another student in attendance, Lex Northrop, shared similar sentiments.
“I really think it’s a good opportunity instead of using glitter or plastic. I really like what we’re doing and I’ve never really seen a college campus care about it,” said Northrop. “It’s cool that there are a lot of people here who are eco-conscious.”
Bakia is continuing to work towards long-term implementation of a confetti-free campus with the help of OU’s Voinovich School, in the hopes that Ohio University will put up “no confetti” signs on College Green, expand awareness of the issue, and provide sustainable alternatives on campus.
“It’s a very easy swap,” added Bakia. “And it’s one of those things where if you’re not aware of how damaging the plastic can be then it’ll totally slip your mind that this is something you should prioritize. We are a certified Tree Campus USA, and that’s a hard certification to get. It means we have our own compost, our own recycling, and we plant so many trees a year. We are in the middle of Appalachia with a pretty solid history of grassroots citizens being sustainable, so in general we are such a green campus. The fact that we have a confetti problem is upsetting.”