Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Students hold a responsibility to be sustainable, but so does the University

A new waste-disposal system was recently implemented in West Campus Residence Halls, allowing students to separate their waste into food waste, trash and single-stream recycling bins on every floor that has a trash room. Previously, West Campus dormitories each had only one recycling site on the lower levels of the buildings — an inconvenient trek for students who needed to discard their recyclables.

The bins also come with color-coded guides to help with sorting waste.

This is a definite improvement for students who are already actively recycling. And, the new system makes sustainability more accessible to dorm residents.

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

However, true change takes more than new recycling bins on every floor.

A dual-stream recycling system has been available on every floor of Warren Towers for several years now, and upon initial installation, recycling rates among dorm residents went up 10 percent, according to [email protected] But today, it’s become commonplace to see an overflowing trash bin next to a virtually empty or misused recycling bin.

Students need to be proactive about their habits in order for the alternative waste streams to be effective. But those who are not environmentally conscious may not be motivated to take advantage of the three-stream waste disposal.

It may be easy to throw all your trash into one bag and then into one bin, but it also isn’t much harder to be conscious about where you’re disposing your paper and plastic.

However, the sustainability effort doesn’t solely fall on students. Although these additional recycling bins are undoubtedly great news, it feels too little too late.

Warren Towers, as previously mentioned, has had recycling on every floor for over six years now. In a 2014 [email protected] article, Corinna Cusson, then-Assistant Director of Residence Life at Warren Towers, said the recycling bins were a unique feature on campus that “students have been clamoring for for about a decade now.”

The initial implementation and funding took several months but certainly not several years. If it was relatively fast and evidently very popular, why did it take a decade for Warren Towers to first receive this recycling system? And why did it take half a decade for it to be expanded to other dormitories on campus?

[email protected] zero waste manager Kaity Robbins said they are looking to next apply the initiative at 1019 Commonwealth Ave., but further development of the initiative would require students to successfully use the waste system. While it’s understandable to want this project to do well before investing in other sites, the responsibility isn’t just on the students.

Student Government shouldn’t have to continuously petition for such basic recycling. Instead, the University should be providing us with these resources from the get-go, which means expanding to all dorms as soon as possible. 

Especially for apartment-style buildings, such as 10 Buick St. and 33 Harry Agganis Way or the brownstones on Bay State and South Campus, the addition of food waste bins — or even trash disposal that is inside their buildings, rather than outside — could make a huge difference.

On a larger scale, too, most of the responsibility falls on the University: how it runs the school and its buildings, its development and construction, its dining halls and its investment in fossil fuels. The University’s carbon footprint is much greater than our own.

The recycling dorm initiative is practically an empty gesture coming from a school that should have made recycling the standard long ago and could have chosen to enact even more practical changes.

The most relevant example comes from the pandemic’s exacerbation of an already questionable dining hall. The takeout containers are not only tremendously unsustainable, but also don’t allow for proper portion sizes.

And before the pandemic, mountains and mountains of food — food that students didn’t have to dispose of properly, but just chucked onto a conveyor belt — would go to waste.

Rather than constructing yet another giant building on Commonwealth Avenue — despite the cool and sustainable architecture — BU should shift its attention to pre-existing issues such as sustainable dining hall practices.

As students, we must make an effort to actually recycle and consume less, whether it’s with the food we get at our dining halls, the plastic we use or the unsustainable products we buy. As for the University, it needs to take on more practical and impactful responsibilities to reduce its environmentally unfriendly policies and practices.

Yes, the new waste-disposal initiative is a positive, but we should also make sure it’s used properly and followed by further substantial change.

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