By Carly Mehl
Take a history class and you will be told that the debt of the U.S has fallen in our generation’s hands to solve. This unfathomable number that has reached to trillions, and only keeps on climbing every second, is just as frightening as the irreversible damage that humans have inflicted upon our Earth. There is no bringing back what has been destroyed by global climate change, but it our responsibility to salvage the resources we still have and conserve them for future generations to come. This solution is the essence of sustainability, something many people ignore to indulge in whether they do so knowingly or of ignorance.
It is frightening because most of our generation is unaware of this. What is even scarier, is the fact that even the ones who believe they are conscious about the scarcity and time sensitivity of our Earth’s resources, struggle for the help and support to reduce their carbon footprint. Until recently, I believed that I was doing my part by bringing my reusable bags to the grocery store and not buying cases of plastic water bottles anymore. This was great, but it was the bare minimum and I had no clue. It was when I was in an Introduction to Macroeconomics course with professor Madhavi Venkatesan that my perspective about the economy, and the world in general, changed entirely. Venkatesan has an impressive educational background with a PhD, MA, and BA in economics from Vanderbilt, MA in Sustainability and Environmental Management from Harvard, and MA in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. This educational background on top of her experience with holding senior-level positions at fortune 250 companies, is only a hint at how engaging and powerful her lectures are. By focusing her perspective of the economy from a sustainability-focused standpoint, she helps bring attention to the importance of being environmentally conscious of the market.
She invited our class to attend showings of a sustainability film series screened at the Chatham Orpheum theater, a part of the efforts of her non-profit organization, Sustainable Practices. I had the advantage of living close by and have been able to see two of the films. The first film I saw,Plastic China, captured me in a way I had not anticipated. It was an emotional, hard-hitting film of one small family that captured the lifestyle of so many people in China – who handle the wrath of the rest of the world’s waste. It showed small children who dreamt of going to school, playing and sorting through mountains of trash dumped in their backyards due to the ten million tons of waste imported from developed countries around the world. It frustrated me that, there we are, so hidden from the truth of where our waste really goes. Because we do not see first hand the effects of our hazardous waste destroying Earth in our own backyard, we do not care to change our consumption. But if we continue to waste at the rate we have been going, it is inevitable that all shores will soon look like those beaches we have only seen photographed with trash lining the beach and our own aquatic creatures choking on plastic.
Most students are not aware of the laws in Massachusetts that require us to recycle. Across campus, there are minimal efforts to encourage sustainability. There are some bins with circular holes carved out to make it obvious that plastic bottles would fit through. However, there are so many open trash bins that have no indication of what should be thrown in them. Even in the few locations that have recycle bins, there is no instruction on how to recycle these items. It only takes one person to toss something that has not been washed into the bin, to contaminate all of the other plastic which then becomes unable to be recycled. The problem is that most people do not know that they need to wash these items they are recycling.
Plastic bottles are not the only thing we should be recycling either. If we care about water bottles ending up in landfills then shouldn’t we be sorting out all plastic? In the Bear’s Den dining hall, there is no silverware available. Every utensil is made of plastic and all food is served on something disposable. Yet the only recycling station is for plastic bottles and everything else is thrown into a general trash bin? What about all of those Dunkin Donuts iced coffee cups?
There are 6 major types of plastic categorized by the chemicals and how recyclable they are. If you look around the room and find anything made of plastic, this will be easy, for example a plastic water bottle or a dunks cup. Spin it around until you see a tiny triangle that will have a number (probably a 1) inside of it and underneath will read “PETE.” This stands for Polyethylene terephthalate and is of the easier plastics to recycle because with every increasing number, it becomes more difficult to reprocess. When I did some research to step up my own recycling game, I found that the redemption center in my hometown only accepts types 1 and 2 and they must be extensively washed. The average person probably does not have enough time to firstly sort out and wash their plastics beyond types 1 and 2, and secondly seek out a second redemption center to recycle them. What this means is that as consumers, we need to take responsibility in our purchasing actions by looking at the labels before we purchase something we know we cannot recycle. Sometimes we can be buying something that is great because the packaging tells us it is vegan, non-animal tested, non- GMO, and even locally sourced but it could have a level 6 plastic resin code packaging. What seems like a deal for 99 cents at the dollar store has a much higher price when we consider the long-term damage it has to the Earth.
A s overwhelming as all of this is, there is even more waste going on here at BSU far beyond plastics. There is a law in Massachusetts that requires units the size of BSU to compost and sort food waste. However, students are not made aware of this and like the recycling bins across campus, the proper disposal is not made easy for us by any means. When food is thrown into a landfill and does not have the oxygen and components, like when composting, to naturally decompose it releases Methane gas which is more harmful to the atmosphere than Carbon.
What this means for students at BSU, the future of America, is that we need to start holding ourselves accountable. We should be asking BSU more questions about their liability to society. Sustainability is the responsibility each of us hold to manage the resources of our Earth, ensuring a quality of life for future generations. By turning a blind eye to the rising global temperature from human-made emissions into the atmosphere, we are putting ourselves at risk. The irreversible damage from carbon dioxide, caused by humans, has lead to extreme disasters all over the world that seem to be on the news every day. Things will not change overnight but small steps will turn to large strides towards change in sustainability from our community to the next.
Carly Mehl is a Staff Writer for The Comment.