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Environmental activists criticize the excessive use of paper flyers on campus

Published: Monday, May 18, 2009

Updated: Monday, May 18, 2009 14:05


Rebekah Sokol / Tufts Daily

Environmentalists criticize Tufts’ use of flyers as a means of advertising on campus.

    The outdoor and indoor walls of the campus center, the dining halls and even the dorm common rooms can tell a person all there is to know about the current happenings on campus through the perpetual plastering of posters, flyers and advertisements. But while constant papering on campus may be effective and convenient, some argue that its benefits are outweighed by its lack of environmental sustainability.

    "I'll tell you what really offends me … on a campus which embraces the principle of sustainability [is] seeing the random acts of multiple postering that go on," University President Lawrence Bacow told the Daily in an interview last month. "Every time we have a strong wind the campus is just littered with stuff. I don't get that ... People feel like it's not enough to put up one thing but to put up the same thing 50 times, do it all over the place, have it blow down."

    Project Coordinator of the Office of Sustainability Tina Woolston agreed. "I always walk by all of the posters and think about how wasteful they are," she said. "How can you not?"

    Woolston explained that some colleges have embraced alternatives to papering on campus. Middlebury College has invested in slate boards for student chalking, while other universities have put up white boards for student advertising. In 2008, members of the Tufts Environmental Consciousness Outreach (ECO) club suggested installing Plexiglas boards in oft-traveled outdoor locations, but Woolston said she never heard of a follow-up to that proposal.

    "The problem with white boards is that they can get messy. There's more potential to vandalize," she said. "I don't think they are the best idea."

    Junior Meera Gajjar, who helped lead the initiative for Plexiglas boards, which she said can be spray-painted white and used as cheaper substitutes for white boards, explained that she thinks Plexiglas placed in popular locations will cut down on waste and unnecessary expenses.

    "I have always noticed the amount of papering that goes on at Tufts … These flyers are not only a waste of paper, they litter our campus [as well]," she said in an e-mail to the Daily. "I wanted to find a way for groups to be able to advertise their events in a more sustainable way … To me, the boards would not only cut down on ugly paper waste on campus, they will also save money for groups on campus. Printing hundreds of flyers is definitely more expensive than buying markers."

    Dawn Quirk, Tufts Recycles! recycling coordinator, explained that the time and effort to implement alternative advertising might not pay off. "I just don't think that putting up a white board would really stop people from flyering," she said. "A big part of the success of an event is whether or not people know about it … I think that people would be fearful of having their information erased." She suggested that students concerned about their environmental impact consider working with one-sided pre-printed paper for their advertisements and flyers.

    Woolston also wondered whether students would give up using paper if they were offered other methods of campaigning and advertising, or if they would simply use paper in conjunction with the other options. "It would be worthwhile to find out just how valuable the paper posters actually are compared to other methods, like chalking. What's the most effective way of getting the word out?"

    Papering is by no means an environmentally sustainable method of advertising, according to Woolston, but it's also not the biggest waste problem at Tufts.

    Of the trash collected on campus, 16 percent is composed of paper products that should have been recycled — and over the course of a single school year, that adds up to 129 tons of wasted paper.

    "I'm pretty confident that 129 tons is an accurate estimate," Quirk said. "If anything, it may even be an underestimate. Students recycle least when the paper or cardboard is associated with eating, like cracker or cereal boxes. It's a very large source of waste on campus … We have a lot left in the trash that should be recycled."

    In contrast, even if 5,000 flyers — a high estimate, according to Woolston — are plastered around campus every week during the school year, less than one ton of paper is ultimately wasted.

    "We definitely don't want to give the impression that papering is a good idea, that it's environmentally friendly. We discourage it, and people should be aware of its wastefulness," she said. "However, when you look at the situation in terms of impact, it seems more important to convince people to recycle than to convince them not to flyer."

    Furthermore, according to Quirk, the paper advertisements that are removed are recycled. "Rain doesn't matter [for the recycling process]," she explained. "Tape is a little more questionable because the chemicals in glue have the potential to change the chemical makeup of pulp, but I would say to err on the side of caution and recycle. The companies will decide if they can't use it."

    Tufts Community Union (TCU) President Brandon Rattiner, who won the three-candidate election in April and placed hundreds of promotional posters around campus, explained that while he considers environmental sustainability to be an important issue, it is simply not a focal point at the forefront of competitive campaigns.

    "I'm very big into environmental sustainability, but the election is so competitive and stressful that you really have to go for mass, for name recognition," he said. "If your name isn't out there, you lose the election. Everyone goes out of their way to advertise heavily … and it gets over-flooded."

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