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Rice should expand free laundry detergent sheets program

Photo courtesy Grace Eichenour

By Grace Eichenour     3/7/23 10:03pm

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.

Over the past year, Rice has piloted a partnership with Generation Conscious, offering zero-waste and toxic-free, refillable laundry detergent sheets to students during a pilot program at Hanszen College. The program consists of a central dispenser, in which students can refill a reusable container with 10 individual sheets at a time. These sheets are packaging free and plastic-free, and require 97% less water and 95% less carbon to produce and distribute than the average leading detergent. The pilot program ran for the duration of the Spring 2022 semester, RESP/RISE programs in the summer and the start of the Fall 2022 semester. However, it came to a screeching halt when the inventory was exhausted. While the refill station saw large utilization numbers – with over 15,000 laundry detergent sheets dispensed over this six month time-frame – and the exit survey of the pilot program revealed overwhelmingly positive reviews, administration at Rice have been hesitant to commit to the program at all residential colleges, and as a result the status of accessible and sustainable laundry at Rice has entered an increasingly vulnerable state. If we want sustainable laundry to be the reality for Rice students for years to come, we must continue to be vocal and encourage Rice to follow through on its commitments to climate justice.   

As someone who is actively engaged with the program in my roles as a zero waste intern at the Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management and an environmental justice coordinator at Generation Conscious, I have had the pleasure of witnessing the positive impact this program has made at Rice, beyond giving students access to free laundry detergent. Generation Conscious has been able to engender change within the Rice community due to its undeniable compatibility with Rice’s commitments to reach carbon neutrality and promoting cultural inclusivity, including but not limited to, eliminating hygiene insecurity, reducing plastic and water waste, and replacing pollutive infrastructure with sustainable, accessible and equitable substitutes. The detergent refill station reaches carbon parity to the traditional pod and liquid detergents after merely 750 sheets are used, and every additional sheet after that saves 0.14kg of carbon dioxide. Applying this to the Rice population yields that if two out of three students swap their current detergent for the sheets, Rice can halve the climate impact of laundry by 2030. 

As the expansion of the program continues to be postponed by the administration, Taylor Gilliam, another environmental justice coordinator at Generation Conscious, and I, in collaboration with ACSEM, have consistently fought and advocated for the continuation of the partnership. In a recent survey that we conducted, 96% of participants elected that they would like the expansion to occur, and some indicated they would be willing to increase their tuition by up to $15 to fund the program. Most recently, we drafted a resolution in conjunction with the Environmental Committee of the Student Association. The goal of the legislation was to emphasize that the undergraduate student body unanimously supports the expansion of the program and to call on the Rice administration to ‘Be Bold’ and fund a full expansion of the environmental justice laundry detergent programs to all residential colleges. The legislation was unanimously ratified on Feb. 20, demanding the administration fund the yearly inventory to supply each member of the undergraduate student body with 5 refills of 10 detergent sheets. The highlights of the resolution, which can be found in the SA’s documentation, that garnered excitement among student leaders were FGLI employment opportunities, reducing Rice’s net climate impact through emissions reduction and student fellowship opportunities. As the SA is empowered by the opinions of the student body, the unanimous support for this new legislation emphasizes the overwhelming support the program has gained throughout its pilot. The SA uses its power and legislation to then inform the Rice administration of general attitudes on campus, and this legislation is no exception to that rule. 

While the resolution unanimously passing in SA is a huge win in our fight to secure Generation Conscious’ spot on campus, there is still work to do. A written agreement to make the program a permanent aspect of life here at Rice is still yet to come, and the support of the student body is the most powerful tool in our efforts to achieve this goal. Whether you have used the program before or you are just now learning that it exists, it is imperative that we all speak up and get involved in making Rice a more sustainable and equitable place. Administrative inaction has only made the student body more eager for this program, and if we want to uphold the sacred relationship between students and our leaders that Rice so desperately wants to foster, the causes and programs students fight for must be acknowledged and implemented.

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