The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web

Conservation requires active participation of all students to work

I'm worried. I am a member of Share A Vital Earth (SAVE), the campus environmental action group, and I'm afraid that our planet will lose its vitality if current trends don't change. There are a lot of things on the planet which need to be improved, but I would like to address an issue that we can all understand -- garbage.

Think about it. How often do you have to empty the waste basket in your room? How long does it take to fill up the dumpster behind your fraternity house? Is there ever enough room in the garbage cans in front of the Stratton Student Center for the paper plate your sandwich came on? There is a lot of garbage in this world, far too much.

Some of it is recyclable, and if you're lucky, you can find a place on campus to put it where it actually will be recycled. Recycling is great -- I'm all for it --

but what about those things that can't be, or just aren't, recycled? They are trucked off to a landfill or incinerator, where they are not only rendered useless, but also contribute to groundwater and air pollution. How many resources (petroleum, water, etc.) went into producing that plastic salad bowl you just relegated to the trash bin?

The key to reducing the solid waste problem is cutting back on how much we produce in the first place. The city of Berkeley, CA, has started an awareness campaign to do just that; they call it "precycling." Think about your actions and your purchases in a garbage frame of mind. Is there some way to reduce the amount of stuff you throw away from this meal? When you eat at Lobdell, you get your pizza on a paper plate, your salad in a plastic bowl, and your drink in either a paper cup, glass bottle, or cardboard carton. All of that gets thrown away.

"Hey! That's not my fault!" you say. "It's what they give me. I'd gladly use a china plate and real glass. It's all ARA's fault."

Sorry, folks, we can't blame this one completely on ARA. Some of you may remember a joint effort between Food Services and SAVE to reduce the amount of disposables used on campus. SAVE members approached Alan Leo, general manager of food services, with our concerns about the amount of paper and plastic used in dining halls. Leo was more than willing to work with us to reconcile the problem.

So SAVE designed posters and table cards to inform campus residents of its efforts, and Leo purchased china plates and bowls and had the posters and table cards printed (on recycled paper!) and displayed. The program seemed to be a success. Many people on campus were pleased with the change.

But what happened? The program started in March, but by the end of the term, paper plates were back in regular use. Some of you even recall having to use styrofoam trays. So many china plates and bowls, as well as reusable trays, had been left in corridors and rooms, "borrowed" and then forgotten, thrown away by mistake, or simply stolen, that Food Services had run out. By the end of the summer, only 300 to 400 plates were left on the entire campus. There was no alternative but to use disposables while waiting for reusable serviceware to be ordered again and received.

That new china will be put into use very soon, if it hasn't been already. Two thousand dinner plates, 2500 other plates for salad, bread, etc., and 4000 knives, forks and spoons each were ordered for Lobdell alone. But according to Leo, another 2000 plates will be needed by the end of the semester if this year is similar to last year.

At $3.76 per plate, that's $7520 that Food Services should not have to spend. All it takes to help curb the enormous amount of waste and cut costs is a small effort from those who get their meals at the dining halls. When you have the choice between paper and china, use the china -- then return it. It doesn't take much time to bring your plate and tray back to Lobdell after eating on Kresge Oval. If you bring your dinner up to your room, bring the serviceware back at breakfast. Don't just leave the stuff in a corridor somewhere on campus. Although it's hard to believe, janitors often throw away china plates.

If you want your own dishes and silverware, Woolworth's is pretty cheap.

This is all common sense, and I'm not trying to bawl anyone out, but the current practices must change. The convenience of disposable everything has spoiled us. It is time to break this bad habit and start thinking about our actions in terms of how they affect the environment.

This brings me back to the idea of "precycling." The basic idea is to reduce our use of disposable items. Instead of buying many little bags of chips, buy one big one. Carry your own mug or cup for coffee. Return the serviceware to Lobdell and Walker so that it can be used again.

Last spring's campaign suffered because people were just plain lazy. I'm asking everyone on campus to make a conscious effort to produce less garbage. It's our turn to show that we care.

Amy Rovelstad '92->

Education Coordinator->