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UA needs to reduce waste, ban styrofoam

Emma Royal

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Since the advent of accessible plastic, America has defined itself as a disposable culture. Takeout containers, plastic Starbucks cups, non–recyclable home goods and vast overconsumption all play a role in defining that culture. As a country, we produce an astronomical amount of waste. 

According to the EPA, despite hosting only 5% of the world’s population in 2005, nearly 25% of the world’s trash came from the United States. Considering the monstrous carbon dioxide output of our factories and transportation methods and the ever–looming threat of global warming, it can be daunting for college students to feel as if they can make an impact, but there are important steps we can take as a student body and as a University to improve our planet.

To begin, we must reduce our consumption and make as many of our possessions as reusable as possible. Swinging by Starbucks every single morning before your 9 a.m. is a nice pick-me-up, but throwing away a plastic cup and straw every single morning adds up in your carbon footprint. Many single–use items are not necessary for our everyday lives and can easily be replaced by a reusable item. If you stop for coffee three times each week, carrying around a stainless steel cup or bottle for refills at your favorite coffee spot will save 156 cups every year. This change is not difficult and is very impactful when implemented on a large scale.

UA plays host to the busiest collegiate Starbucks in the nation. If students make a legitimate effort to consume less and consume responsibly, there is no reason that our collective caffeine cravings should have a significant environmental impact.

We must advocate for accessibility to recycling services in campus housing and off-campus apartment buildings. While not using plastic, disposable items in the first place is the best option for the environment, this cannot always be prevented for the sake of convenience and systems already in place. The University does not recycle Styrofoam in any capacity, though the material is heavily used in the Ferg dining locations and Greek housing. Switching entirely to recyclable paper or plastic cups in fast–food locations will not affect convenience and is far better for our planet. 

Auburn University has completely banned Styrofoam from campus vendors, costing only $5,000 in the process without impacting tuition. Surely there is room in UA’s budget to eliminate a material that is piling up in landfills and will remain there for hundreds of years. The planet should always be a top priority.

On the outskirts of my apartment complex, there is a large dumpster meant for resident trash with a garbage compactor attached. When residents misuse the compactor and it breaks down, which happens relatively frequently, trash piles up on the street corner next to the dumpster. Not only is the mountain of garbage rotting in the sun and attracting flies until the compactor can be fixed, but if a storm blows through, bacteria and waste flows off of the pile and into the sewer, which runs into our water cycle. Implementing a recycling service at my apartment complex would greatly reduce this issue, especially considering that large cardboard boxes that aren’t broken down are a significant cause of compactor breakdown. 

With a little digging, students can find contact information for the campus Recycling Department and Environmental Health and Safety Department. Writing an email takes five minutes or less and could help bring recycling issues to the attention of university administrators. Paying tuition means having a voice on campus for how you want your money to be spent. Proposing elimination of Styrofoam containers on campus will have a large–scale impact that will last for generations.

 If you’re looking for a window of opportunity to help save the planet, it is standing wide open in front of us. We may not change the world by shrinking the carbon footprint of one corner of the state of Alabama, but we can start the conversation and be an influence for good. The University of Alabama prides itself on innovation. It is time to step up and innovate for the planet we all call home.

Emma Royal is a sophomore majoring in aerospace engineering. Her column runs biweekly.

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UA needs to reduce waste, ban styrofoam