By Rider University Eco-Rep Kayley Tezbir & Jillian Loyas-Stryker, Graduate Assistant for Sustainability
Originally Published: November 10, 2021
At this year’s Campus Sustainability Day event, the Facilities Management Grounds Department dropped off around seven large garbage bags to display outside of Cranberry’s. These garbage bags were full of just one week’s worth of litter collected around the Rider campus which was not placed in garbage cans or recycling bins. This was not our community’s trash; it was solely our litter. It was thrown on the ground, scattered throughout the parking lots, and tossed aside— left for others to handle.
According to the Rider Grounds department, they pick up an average of 10 to 14 garbage bags of litter per week, every week from the ground. This is the total opposite of what ‘Broncs Go Green’ means. It is also a relatively tiny example of just how bad things can get if each one of us doesn’t focus on doing our part to be environmentally responsible. Things can get trashy, threatening the wildlife on our campus and in Centennial Lake. It is important to be respectful of ourselves, others, our shared spaces, and every living thing on Earth which are all interconnected parts of Mother Nature.
Recently Canadian non-profit organization, Plastic Oceans, released the 2021 International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) report. The ICC (ICC) is an organization which recruits volunteers from across the globe to help clean up surface waters and underwater sites in the ocean. According to the ICC’s 2021 report, the 221,589-person crew cleaned up 5,229,065 pounds of trash in 2020. Among the millions of pounds gathered from the world’s oceans and surface waters were 627,014 plastic beverage bottles, 409,855 bottle caps, 272,399 plastic grocery bags, 224,170 straws and stirrers and 222,289 take out/ takeaway containers.
Plastic pollution negatively affects aquatic and terrestrial animals alike, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Before you create any form of trash, you should consider the four Rs of recycling: ‘Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.’ Refusing is the act of saying no to single-use items that are destined for the landfill. As a student, you can reduce your waste and practice the art of refusal anytime you eat on campus. On the Grubhub app, you have the choice to refuse single-use plastic utensils, bags, and beverage cups by picking the “I choose to be Green” option. At Saxbys or Starbucks, you can refuse the straws and limit what is being sent to landfills.
Speaking of straws, as of Nov. 4, straws are now only available on a per-request basis statewide. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Plastic Bag Law (NJ P.L. 2020, c. 117) is the state law under which the new ‘straw law’ is covered. By May 4, 2022, it will also bring a statewide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags everywhere and paper bags will be banned from all grocery stores and businesses over 2,000 square feet such as Target, Walmart and other big chain retailers. The law also includes a ban on all polystyrene foam foodservice products.
The state’s decision to still allow straws by request was made in consideration for differently-abled folks. It is hoped that those who can will still choose to ‘skip the straw’ and ‘stop sucking’ for the planet’s sake. One doesn’t even have to entirely skip the straw but rather swap the straw for a reusable one. There are so many stylish, affordable alternatives including bendable, contractible, compact, silicone and metal options available. The Office of Sustainability and the Rider Eco-Reps frequently give these away at events for free.
NJ’s Plastic Bag Law legislation is considered the country’s strongest ban on single-use bags even including specifics on the allowable material for reusable bags being sold, making New Jersey a new leader in the nationwide fight for social and legal progress in support of sustainability and green initiatives. The new law will impact all residents and will hopefully lead to a cleaner New Jersey through widely-spread changes in our throwaway habits. According to InsiderNJ.com, this ban will be enacted in order “to help fight plastic pollution” yet we will also be helping ourselves in return. Change is inevitable and this positive change is one to embrace and celebrate as a small step in the right direction capable of yielding very big results.
Another of the ‘4 Rs’, Reduce, is the act of trying to limit the amount of waste one generates. Junior biology major, Sherlin Narayanan, talked about how she reduces her waste as a student.
Narayanansaid, “Generally people take notes or print their notes on paper, and then when the semester or year ends, they throw out the paper, essentially providing a lot of landfill waste. I type most of my notes on my electronic devices and keep them on there to study with and even go back to when I need them in the future. If more people attempt to adopt this method, a lot of paper waste can be prevented.”
The last ‘R’ of the four and the last resort for plastic waste management should be for it to be recycled. Recycling is the process of using old or used materials to create a new product. Though the facilities are available, this is hardly ever the fate for recyclable plastic.
Dan Druckenbrod, a professor at Rider University and chair of the GEMS department, said, “While plastic recycling programs in the U.S. have now been operating for decades, EPA statistics show our country still only recycles about 8% of our plastics. Not only does the convenience of plastic products lead to more pollution and landfill waste, but many plastic products are also not currently suited for recycling. We need to rethink why we often choose plastics in our purchases, why corporations create new plastics from oil instead of using recycled plastics or other materials, and how government policies and incentives can accelerate a transition to a more sustainable use of plastics.”
The national level of recycling is very low. Let’s do our best to raise this number at least in Rider’s community. On campus, we can recycle aluminum, types one, two and five plastics, clean paper and cardboard. With aluminum and plastic make sure to rinse it free of food and beverages or else nothing in that batch of recycling can be recycled. Lastly, let’s make sure that we are properly sorting trash from recyclables. Recyclable items do not belong in the trash can.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about how you can improve your recycling practices and reduce your waste generation, join us for America Recycles Day. This event will be held in the Bart Luedeke Center ground floor lobby on Nov. 18 from 11:30 a.m. -1 p.m. We would love to have you join us.