Universities and Waste Reduction

Universities across the nation should pursue every feasible avenue available to reduce waste, specifically at university events. The U.S. recovers less than 20% of this waste, and consumption is only rising. While there are many campuses focused on sustainability, there needs to be a nationwide effort at all colleges to create campuses that divert increased amounts of waste from landfills. An excellent example of a college making its events more sustainable is Middlebury College. About 70% of their food waste is composted through a collaborative effort between Dining Services and Facilities Management. At outdoor events this figure increases to 90%.

My question: why aren’t more universities attempting to make their campuses and campus events more sustainable?

I believe it’s safe to say that at many universities there is not a lack of interest in more sustainable practices and facilities. However, there is a lack of cooperation regarding administration. Furthermore, there is a more fundamental issue: funding. When thinking about sustainable measures, students tend to think big. Good examples would be proposing to use the elliptical machines to generate electricity, retrofitting inefficient water fixtures, or to install solar panels. While these are good ideas that would no doubt be effective, many students don’t understand the process. Many possible implementations are expensive, with adequate returns on the investment coming quite a few years later. This is generally not attractive to schools with strict budgets, which is basically all schools. The measures that many schools could probably afford to implement, such as putting on window films (to reduce solar heating of rooms where it is unwanted), aren’t as “sexy” and won’t do much in the way of publicity, which is usually a consideration of school administrations.

I also believe that there are many students who might be putting too much faith in the system. For example, compostable tableware. School events utilizing compostable tableware usually do not divert these products from the landfill by composting these products because what they were really created to do is biodegrade. While this is a step in the right direction, I’m sure many students believe their “compostable” utensils and plates are actually composted.

Sources: http://www.middlebury.edu/sustainability/food/dining/waste

http://www.thehoya.com/opinion/campus-sustainability-stifled-by-red-tape-1.3115073#.UqUcovRDtu4

http://recycle.uoregon.edu/zerowaste_frame.htm

Photo: http://crave-catering.com/austin-weird-wednesdays/img_0315/

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High School Education: Up A Blind Alley

I went to high school in an area that was not particularly keen on sustainable practices or ecological woes. The school required the usual science courses such as anatomy, biology, and chemistry… however, they did not require any course related to environmental studies or environmental science. The only class I took related to environmental issues was an ecology class, which I had chosen to take as an elective. That one ecology class made an unmistakable impact on me as it further encouraged me to major in environmental studies. However, many of the students I graduated with had little to no knowledge of environmental issues and many didn’t even recycle. 

All high schools across the country should have an environmental science course included in the required curriculum. Studies consistently show that when integrated into the core curricula or used as an integrating theme across the curriculum, environmental education increases student engagement in learning, improves student achievement and raises test scores (plt.org). Students in the United States are quickly falling behind students of other countries, not just in math and basic science, but in understanding and awareness. By not integrating environmental studies into the required curriculum, we are raising a generation of oblivious consumers. Not only are we consuming a shameful amount of resources, but we waste an unnecessary amount as well. If high school students are better educated to understand the products they buy as well as the manufacturing process that puts those products in their hands, it is likely that they will waste less and recycle more. Perhaps they won’t buy so many unnecessary things as well. 

 

Sources: https://www.plt.org/who-we-are