When coming to UNCG for the first time, students experience the right mix of euphoric pride and crushing ignorance. There’s a lot to be learned at SOAR, from staff, and from fellow students, but none of them can teach everything. Being a fresh-faced freshmen or transfer student, there will always be something to confuse you. However, something that should be explicitly clear is why, at UNCG, you should reduce what you use, reuse everything, and recycle the rest.
Here is an unpopular fact. Climate change is real and largely the product of waste. The EPA states that, in 2009, 42 percent of greenhouse gas emissions were linked to the consumption and transportation of goods. As of 2014, greenhouse gas emissions accumulated to 6,870 million metric tons.
It may seem frightening or alarmist, but in reality consumption is how we’re wired. People use things and it isn’t likely they will stop. Inherently, this isn’t a bad thing and neither are greenhouse gases. They keep the heat from the sun in our atmosphere, thereby keeping it warm enough to sustain life.
However, the amount of waste produced increases the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions trap more heat from the sun and allow less of it to escape into space making our planet hotter by proxy. And when the EPA estimates 254 metric tons of waste sitting in landfills and releasing methane and carbon dioxide, it’s a safe bet that we’re getting pretty warm.
The means to combat this waste lies in a concept called sustainability.
Sustainability is defined as the practice of preserving humanity in the present and sustaining it in the future. When condensed to only our magnificent campus, it is the collaboration of students, faculty, staff, and infrastructure to keep our school a healthy place to work and ensure its health for the future.
UNCG’s Office of Sustainability created the Climate Action Plan, or CAP, to reach the goal of carbon neutrality, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions while equally offsetting them with more environmentally conscious alternatives.
CAP states the solid waste accumulated in a semester contributes roughly 404 metric tons of greenhouse gases. Solid waste isn’t just plastic and paper, the recyclable stuff; food is also defined as solid waste and food waste in landfills release 14 percent of methane into the atmosphere according to the EPA.
E-waste, like laptops and phones, is another problem. E-waste accounts for 70 percent of toxic waste in landfills, according to a 2007 Mother Jones article. This can all be drastically reduced by practicing sustainability. If you have a dead laptop or useless old phone, there are plenty of recycling bins specifically for them in the EUC.
Sustainable practices keep our campus healthy for students, faculty, staff, and the environment, but they also save money. Any trash that doesn’t get tossed in a recycling bin goes to a landfill which is surprisingly expensive.
CAP states the cost of sending waste to a landfill has increased 79 percent since 2004, with the average cost being $181/per ton of waste. In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, UNCG’s savings and avoided costs were greater than $250,000. That’s good news for everyone. The more the school saves, the more money can be vested back into the system to offer better services for students, faculty, and staff.
The beautiful thing about practicing sustainability is how easy it is. Instead of tossing paper already written on, flip it over and use the back. Whatever you do, don’t trash it. Food can’t currently be recycled at UNCG, but that’s more incentive to eat your leftovers.
If you only eat with meal swipes, campus has you covered. Thanks to the trayless program and Project Clean Plate, the cafeteria does all the work for you by reducing the amount of food one can carry and encouraging students to only get enough to nourish. All you have to do is eat.
Now, the choice to reuse your scrap paper or recycle plastic fruit cups isn’t individually going to save our campus thousands of dollars or kill climate change in its tracks. It’s a cog in the clockwork, perhaps small, but it cannot be underestimated. As a student you have certain responsibilities to yourself, your classmates, professors, and staff making you inextricably linked to the web of campus. Being a good steward of your resources should be as important as a spotless GPA. I guarantee it will mean more in the long run.