EcoCoin program expanding to commonwealth campuses

Program supporting student philanthropic efforts and decreasing campus reliance on single-use plastics expanding to a total of 20 Penn State campuses

The EcoCoin program launched at University Park in 2018 has been so successful that it is expanding to 19 commonwealth campuses. Patrons who refuse a plastic bag receive a wooden EcoCoin that can be deposited in displays supporting one of several student organizations, reducing reliance on single-use plastics and supporting student initiatives. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — “Paper or plastic?” We all know the familiar phrase at checkout counters. But on more and more Penn State campuses, the question being asked instead at retail outlets will be: “Plastic or EcoCoin?” 

Launched by Penn State senior Sam Anawalt at the University Park campus bookstore last summer, the EcoCoin program offers patrons the option of receiving a plastic bag at checkout or forgoing the bag and instead donating the nickel the store would have spent on their bag to a student philanthropic organization engaged in sustainable development. In the fall semester, Residential Dining also partnered with the program and was able to join the bookstore in decreasing reliance on single-use plastic bags. 

“The program is promoting sustainability through the reduction of plastic bags and increasing awareness of the importance of sustainable practices while providing financial support to a campus student organization,” explained Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Andrea Dowhower. “In addition, by many campuses implementing the program, it demonstrates Penn State’s strength of leveraging resources across campuses and providing common experiences for students no matter what campus they attend.”  

In 2018, there were 12,592 transactions where a customer chose not to take a plastic bag. In conjunction with additional donations from the Penn State Bookstore, these EcoCoin transactions delivered $2,129.60 in funding to three student organizations.

Now the EcoCoin program is expanding to a total of 22 retail locations. In addition to the Penn State Bookstore and Market East at University Park, 19 commonwealth campus bookstore locations are adding EcoCoin, with 12 campuses already participating.

Among the student-run organizations receiving donations this semester is the Class Gift Campaign. The graduating class of 2019 voted for the campaign to support an Entry Gate to the Pollinators' Garden at the Arboretum. 

“We are proud to partner with the EcoCoin program, as it promotes a philanthropic spirit among the student body, while simultaneously showcasing our class’s commitment to sustainability and pollinator health,” said Tom Beeby, the executive director of the 2019 Class Gift campaign. “Our mission as the Class Gift Campaign is simple: promote a philanthropic spirit among the graduating class by providing students an opportunity to leave their legacy at the University they call home.” 

Each year, at least 25 different student philanthropic organizations will receive a guaranteed minimum of $4,500 combined through the EcoCoin program. Creating a culture of philanthropy starts with small actions and this program allows students to contribute to this culture at no cost to themselves. 

For more information, contact Sam Anawalt,

Last Updated March 26, 2019