Even with signs all over the compost bins, chalk reminders on the sidewalk and frequent posts on Instagram, Brandeis students continue to dump trash into compost bins. While the university should take an active role in making sure everybody takes waste management seriously, students need to take responsibility for what they leave behind.
Composting is supposed to be sustainable. Yet, when the bins are contaminated by plastic bags, bottles and other trash, they are rejected. Everything then goes to the dumpsters and is shipped either to landfills or the incinerator. We are further increasing our carbon footprint because we must take into account the emissions from the transportation of the compost truck.
In addition, food scraps and other organic matter that break down at landfills release methane. When thinking about climate change, we always talk about carbon dioxide. However, methane is 25 times more potent than CO2 in trapping heat. Americans also waste around 40 million tons of food every year. That’s around 30-40 percent of our national food supply and it’s an insane amount. If Brandeis students don’t want to compost, they should just take only as much food as they can eat.
I would propose that Brandeis make waste separation a mandatory training. The university has already successfully gone through the COVID-19 training, so we are familiar with the format. The Office of Sustainability has already created something called “Waste Division Training” that takes less than 15 minutes to go through. It shows us how to separate waste, where it ends up and how we can recycle objects like electronics and clothing.
However, this exercise is not mandatory. Only those who are in the mailing list or follow the Brandeis Office of Sustainability on social media are likely to see it. Even if the university includes it in their weekly emails, only a small percentage of them are likely to open it. Thus, I think it’s necessary for the university to make everyone accountable.
Some might argue that COVID-19 training was a matter of life and death. They may say that waste management is not on the same scale of importance. Yet, while it might not be threatening to Brandeis students, we have to realize that the waste we produce can harm others.
Seventy-nine percent of the incinerators in the U.S. are located in low-income/BIPOC communities. The more trash we create, the more harmful it is for those living near landfills and waste incinerators. Burning waste emits heavy metals and other toxins into the surrounding environment. Local residents thus are exposed to those toxic chemicals and as a result, have higher risks of getting cancer and other illnesses.
I think it’s immoral to disregard the consequences of our actions just because they don’t directly impact us. We are already a privileged bunch, being at Brandeis. How can we talk about our commitment to social justice if we don’t play our part in climate justice? Brandeis cannot pride itself on its commitments to sustainability if its own students don’t even care.
So why should we care about sustainability at Brandeis? Who are we, as students? We are the consumers. If nothing else matters, think about how much we are paying to be here. Our tuition is tens of thousands of dollars. We better make it worth our money.
The public schools in my city didn’t even have recycling bins in their cafeterias, not to mention a compost bin. I have wanted my schools to be sustainable for so long. I didn’t pay thousands of dollars so I can watch others ruin Brandeis’ effort to reduce its carbon footprint– our carbon footprint.
When I started college last fall, I was shocked that Brandeis still had plastic utensils in its dining areas. But the compostable utensils arrived in my second semester. What is the point, then? To have compostable utensils, when students won’t even put in the effort?
It’s just absolutely shameful for me to admit that Brandeis can’t compost properly because its students are too lazy. People spend hours on their homework, and they can’t spend a few seconds sorting out their waste? Clean up after yourselves, Brandeisians!
While I may be critical in my opinions of my fellow Brandeis students, I am hopeful that we can do better. The university needs to make waste division training mandatory for everybody involved on campus. Like digital literacy or verbal communication, sustainability and climate awareness should be important skills for us to have in this rapidly changing world. Above all, we as students need to be aware of how our actions impact others. We can’t expect other people to clean up the messes we leave behind, especially since our ancestors already left us the planet in this state. All of this will add up and can make a difference, but it takes all of our efforts.