On a late Friday night as I walked to the cooler, I came upon an unwanted sight. No, not an opossum. Nope, not a raccoon either. Instead, I saw a can of beer poorly hidden under some shrubbery, at least 10 brown napkins strewn about the side terrace, two used paper plates, a cellophane lump once wrapped around a cookie and a lone plastic cup. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have witnessed such a scene. Around campus, we neglect coffee cups, drop gum wrappers, leave plates at tables and even trash our own residence halls.
This is part of a two-pronged problem: the dearth of trash, recycling and compost bins around campus and a lack of personal responsibility on the part of students. Our campus lacks the consistent placement of compost, recycling and trash bins necessary to battle overflowing landfills, and the attitude necessary to combat littering.
Both the Cooler and the Marketplace have trash and recycling bins and the occasional compost bin. In the heavily-trafficked areas outside of Johnson Student Center, in the Academic Quad and in residence halls, there are color-coded, evenly-placed trash and recycling bins. But in the areas where students walk from academic buildings to dorms, there is a stark lack of trash or recycling bins. Not to mention, finding a compost bin outside of the Marketplace or the Green Bean is nearly impossible. This leads to students leaving bottles, paper products and other items anywhere they please.
There needs to be clear, consistent options for students to get rid of their waste. One easy fix would be to place a rack in the patio by the bookstore, where dishes and trash are often left due to a lack of waste disposal options. A larger project would be to ensure that trash, recycling and compost bins are available in every area of campus. Each receptacle should be labelled with clear directions on what items can go in each bin. Increased signage on bins has been employed in some parts of campus, but we can do more.
Students and staff also need to be more thoughtful about their waste items by paying attention to signage and allocating their waste to the correct receptacle. Sustainability Coordinator Emma Sorrell stated that this is a large problem on campus that results in more products going straight to landfills.
“We have a major problem with food ending up in the recycling bins; plastic, glass and trash ending up in the compost,” Sorrell said via email. “This is referred to as contamination by the industry and is a major contributor to why we send so much waste to landfills,”
In addition to ensuring our campus is doing the most to curb waste and littering, we must take responsibility by cleaning up after ourselves. I can understand and even appreciate the rationale behind leaving an apple core by a tree to become compost or a feast for a squirrel, but I cannot understand making no effort to pick up our own messes. We are lucky to have a maintenance staff, but their job is not to clean up after feckless college students.
At the Cooler that night, a trash can and a recycling bin were less than 15 feet away from the small mess that students neglected to pick up. We can increase our sustainability efforts campus-wide and alleviate some work for facilities by installing more trash, recycling and compost bins with proper signage, but we must also take responsibility for our own garbage and not leave it to someone else.