I recently visited the Materials Recycling Facility, where the tons of recyclables that we accumulate at the University are sent after collection. I’ll start by saying it wasn’t pretty. After all of our cardboard boxes, plastic water bottles and glass pasta sauce jars get picked up by the city, they get dumped into a pile in the MRF warehouse. Subsequently, the large pile is crudely sorted by machine and by hand in more uniform piles. These uniform piles turn into bundles of material to be sent off for reuse. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but what I saw definitely was not a picturesque scene of a healthy environment. Sure, recycling is better than sending trash to a landfill, but maybe we should be focusing on “reduce” and “reuse” in addition to “recycle”.

To fulfill the University’s sustainability efforts, it will take collaboration between the administration, staff and students to make changes. This means University officials need to be more cognizant of the things they purchase and the things they throw away. This also means they need to provide a more effective system where students can do their part in waste reduction. They can make sure water fountains are accessible and functioning so that we can fill up our reusable water bottles. They should realize that physically separating trash bins and recycling bins can prevent contamination of both receptacles. And they can provide us with educational tools to be knowledgeable about waste diversion.

However, there is only so much that the University can do before individuals become obligated to take action. I’m not asking you to completely stop producing waste. I’m just asking that you think about your waste one more time. Maybe there is one thing that you can change that will divert some waste from the landfill or recycling plant. This could mean carrying around a reusable water bottle, coffee mug or tote bag. It could be buying some of your food in bulk. Or it could be as simple as purchasing less “stuff.” The University has provided us with many resources, so we shouldn’t let them go to waste.

Bridget Callahan
Public Policy junior

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