Thursday, January 17, 2008

College and the Environment

Since coming back to college for the spring semester I have noticed something that I somehow failed to see before. College students are extremely wasteful. Perhaps I did notice this but was too preoccupied with preening and greening my own habits to really see what the average college student does with his or her resources. Part of the reason for this cannot be helped. If you live on campus you are pretty much restricted to what the campus has to offer, a.k.a. disposable goods.

Most of these disposable goods come from campus foodservice. For example, I bought sushi for dinner tonight. Besides the plastic container the sushi was packaged in there was the soy sauce packet, the plastic grass they seem to think is cute to put inside boxes of sushi (if you're a college student you will know what I mean), and the disposable chopsticks (which I decided that after one use were still perfectly acceptable eating utensils and so kept them). This may not seem like a lot to you, but it certainly adds up to something awful in one semester, let alone one year, let alone four years (possibly more if I keep changing my major), and I consider myself conscientious. Imagine the number of students on a campus who really don't give a toothpick about their consumption habits.

Then there are lights that never get turned off, computers running 24/7, and way too much water being used by careless students. I believe the campus dining manager told me that on a given day 800 pounds of food are thrown away in the cafeteria because students pile their trays with food only to discover that they weren't as hungry as they thought they were. In the food court they sell oranges that have been cut into wedges and packaged in a plastic cup. Why not sell the orange whole and screw the packaging? Am I the only one who thinks this is absurd?

These issues are important to me. I am passionate about living as simply as I can, reducing my consumption, cutting back on waste. But then there's me and there's the vast majority. The vast majority doesn't give a damn. This is probably because it hasn't hit their pocketbooks yet. They are, after all, still paying ridiculously cheap prices for oil, and most of them are being put through college by their parents. Perhaps they will waste less when it's wasting their own money. Perhaps, though, as long as America is still above water we can lull ourselves to sleep knowing that we will still be alive tomorrow. We will still have food, shelter, clothing tomorrow. All this while Bangladesh drowns.

This is why I joined the student government. Because I wanted to do something. I wanted to be that one that got fed up with the state of things and tried to change it. And I'll admit, becoming a senator has helped. I am able to do constructive things. I attend lots of meetings and vote on legislation and try to be active within the campus community. This lets me vent a lot of frustration while still being useful. But this usefulness has to be seen as it is: small steps. The bureaucracy was obviously not designed for speed. I often feel that working within the bureaucracy is like using a paddleboat to cross the Atlantic. We do accomplish things, but only after so much labor that the fruit looks a lot smaller in the palm of your hand than it did while it was still in the tree.

On the bright side, we have recently passed some fabulous legislation:
1.) to make duplex printing the default in the computer labs on campus (college is not a paper-
friendly place).
2.) to get bottled water off the campus and simply have water filters where students can refill
their own reusable water bottles.
3.) to increase the parking fee (thus encouraging mass transit and bicycles)

Next on the agenda is covered bike racks and eliminating trays in the cafeteria (which will hopefully cut down on wasted food and the water used to clean the trays). Amazing how all those little things add up.

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