Highland Eco: Killing Earth while saving it

When I was in the fourth grade, I led a “Save the Rainforests” campaign. Every indoor recess, I corralled my classmates with impromptu speeches about the toucans, tigers and tapirs that were dying at the hands of deforestation. Together, I said, we could put an end to it.

Crayola markers in hand, we mass-produced hundreds of “Stop Deforestation” posters, distributing them everywhere we could reach (In case you’re wondering, that’s about four feet high, plus the nearest chair). By the end of our year-long campaign, even the bullies and cafeteria ladies had tagged along. I proudly documented this all in my dairy, confident that we had saved the world. 

Looking back, I realize how ironic my campaign was. In our effort to end deforestation, we wasted several reams of paper, simply contributing to the issue we fought so hard against.

Although I laugh about it now, this theme is ever-present in environmentalism. Sometimes, in our effort to help the Earth, we hurt it more. To combat this, we need to be open to the idea that we don’t always get things right and be willing to reassess. 

Let’s take my rainforest campaign as an example. Instead of wasting new paper, we could’ve repurposed paper from the recycling bin. And instead of creating hundreds of posters, we could’ve made one petition that encouraged our teachers to use less paper in the classroom. Heroic? Maybe not, but it would’ve been a step in the right direction. 

So, how does this apply to our campus community?  Here are two environmental efforts on campus that we need to rethink.

Styrofoam Cups and Disposable Silverware in Reusable Takeout Boxes

This year, to offer an alternative to eating in-person, every student received a reusable takeout box with their meal plan. Frankly, I love using mine. I’m able to get everything I need, while avoiding the risk of exposure to COVID. 

Before each meal, I simply exchange my used takeout box for a clean one. Unfortunately, each one is packed with a Styrofoam cup and a set of plasticware. As a result, I’ve amassed a large collection of unused cups and plasticware over the school year. It disappoints me to imagine how much we’ve disposed of as a campus. 

The good news is, there are a number of ways to turn things around.

If we have a little wiggle room in the budget, we could swap the Styrofoam cups and plasticware with biodegradable or reusable options. In addition to being eco-friendly, this would be better for our health. Styrofoam cups contain Styrene, a chemical compound that the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers to be a likely carcinogen.

If this isn’t feasible, Metz could give students the option to pick an empty takeout box. This would give students the opportunity to use the reusable alternatives they already own. Metz could even use this as an opportunity to make money by selling reusable silverware sets and cups in the C-store.

Recycling Bins as Trash Cans

We have several recycling bins on campus, but their labels are small and worn down. As a result, the bins are often accidentally used as trash cans (speaking from experience here), and too often, the wrong things get dumped inside.

In Blount County, we can recycle cardboard, paper, paperboard, rigid plastic, aluminum cans, and steel cans. However, after peeking in our recycling bins, I’ve found all kinds of things that don’t belong, like plastic wrap, waxed cartons, and Styrofoam containers.

While it’s easy to toss something non-recyclable into the recycling bins, it’s difficult to undo, ultimately hurting the Earth more. These items have to be transported to the recycling center, sorted from the recyclable materials, and moved to the landfill.

We could address this issue by refreshing the bins with easy-to-read and informative labels. This would also draw more attention to them, hopefully encouraging more people to recycle.

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See something else that needs to be addressed? Please reach out. Together, we can work to fix it.

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