No Confetti PHOTO

No Confetti ECU created signs throughout campus urging students to refrain using non-biodegradable confetti when taking graduation photos.

What started as a class project, East Carolina University's No Confetti ECU campaign continues to spread awareness throughout campus about the importance of sustainability and encourages students to refrain from the use of non-biodegradable confetti during graduation photos.

Communication professor Jin-Ae Kang said in an email statement that No Confetti ECU is a campaign to raise awareness of the harmful effects plastic confetti has on the campus environment. The campaign started as a class project during her public relations (PR) campaign class in the spring 2021 semester with a group of seniors in the School of Communication.

The PR class had ECU Sustainability as a project client, with Chad Carwein, ECU Sustainability manager, suggesting the campaign idea. Kang said she thought the topic was relevant to graduating seniors and something that students can adapt for behavior change for the environment. 

“So, students in the spring (2021 semester class) made a good foundation for the campaign. I, as an instructor, felt that this campaign needs to be continued to change our campus culture on celebrating graduation,” Kang said. “So, students in PR campaign class continue to work on the initiative.” 

Due to the campaign beginning during the COVID-19 pandemic and with no students on campus in spring 2021, Kang said the class focused on social media campaigns to spread words and raise awareness. One of the strategies the class used was to involve students and photographers in joining the initiative. Another strategy, Kang said, was to take pledges both online and offline on the No Confetti Banner.  

Kang said she envisions the initiative spreading to other universities throughout North Carolina. She said she wants to stand with the initiative and encourage students to work for the cause until there’s a meaningful change in the graduation celebration culture at ECU.  

“Sustainability is a lifestyle. Our students who are involved in this No Confetti ECU campaign will make a better choice in their daily lives,” Kang said. 

Senior communication major Erika van den Brink, who is also the creative director of No Confetti ECU, said she’s currently taking Kang’s campaign class for the fall semester. Van den Brink said No Confetti ECU’s mission and vision is to promote a cleaner and greener campus by creating an impact through sustainability and mindfulness. She said the initiative is more of an awareness campaign and is working to push the idea into people’s heads. 

“It's like such a small thing that's easy to like eliminate from your grad (graduation) pictures that it's very convenient to not use that could actually benefit our campus, like tenfold,” van den Brink said. “Because non-biodegradable confetti can take up to 100 years to break down. And it's just very, unnecessarily harmful when there's so many good alternatives.” 

Students can use alternatives during their graduation photos, including biodegradable confetti, bubbles, dried flower petals, sparklers and hole punched leaves. Van den Brink said smoke bombs, photo editing and champagne are also common props students can use in their graduation photos. 

In order to push the initiative more to the ECU community, van den Brink said a petition was recently created and has been a helpful conversation starter to get peers to join in on the initiative. As of date of publication, the petition has 19 signatures due to it being recently created, van den Brink said. However, she said she hopes the signatures continue to increase after banner signings on campus. 

“That's what the petition has been really helpful for too because it just is a good talking point to bring up this (No Confetti ECU) instead of just casually talking about it,” van den Brink said. “So they (students) like will verbally commit like yeah, like ‘I'll use the alternative’ or honestly like, ‘I don't really need to confetti when ECU has so many great photo opportunities.’”

This semester, No Confetti ECU has begun to put more emphasis on game day waste reduction. Van den Brink said even though ECU does a good job providing trash cans and recycling bins at the stadium and around tailgate areas, waste is still left on the ground or tossed in bushes.

Van den Brink said to push game day litter awareness, she set up a giveaway on the Smashed Waffles Instagram account. As the social media coordinator for Smashed Waffles, van den Brink said she set up a giveaway for people who interacted with a post or submitted a picture pledging to use a reusable cup during game days or throwing trash away in the correct garbage bin. 

“It (the post) didn't get a ton of likes so to say but we (Smashed Waffles) did get a lot of like story responses, which was kind of cool because it was more about people showing that they were actually taking initiative to use like a Yeti instead of just throwing away stuff,” van den Brink said. 

Senior anthropology major Ashley Gorman, who also serves as treasurer of ECO-Pirates, said No Confetti ECU sometimes attends tabling events with the sustainability clubs on ECU’s campus to promote the campaign. She has spoken to Kang about integrating the campaign with the sustainability clubs at ECU, but Gorman said it would be difficult since the campaign is for a class and the students can’t be involved in extra activities similar to a club. 

Although the campaign cannot be merged with the sustainability clubs on campus, Gorman said the sustainability clubs will continue to partner with No Confetti ECU to help promote the initiative.  

“It (No Confetti ECU) will move on, which is good. We (ECO-Pirates) didn’t want it to die so now we’re doing like partnering things with it. We’re trying to work on partnering with them again,” Gorman said. 

Gorman said it’s apparent that it’s time for graduation when places on campus such as the steps of Flanagan Building, the water fountain in front of Wright Building and the cupola are littered with confetti and glitter. She said it’s hard to pick up non-biodegradable confetti and that it’s harmful to the environment and animals such as birds and squirrels either try to eat the confetti or build nests out of it.

“No matter, whether it's like small or anything, we (Greenville, North Carolina) do have the largest culvert in ECU. So if you throw your confetti or whatnot, and it drifts away down into the culvert it goes into the river which goes into the ocean,” Gorman said.

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