In my last column, I talked about the role that community, and the actions of each individual within that community, plays on sustainability. I also asked you to think about how you can make a difference every day in our community through your own actions. With that in mind, let’s look at sustainability.
As I’m sure you’re familiar with, Tufts has many ‘blue bins’ across campus, conveniently located to make recycling easy. The City of Boston also works hard to provide mixed recycling for many different materials. Although proper management of waste is significant for sustainability efforts, it’s important to remember two things. Firstly, recycling is only a means of reducing the amount of waste that goes to the landfill or is incinerated. It helps reduce waste, but only after it has been created. The second thing to remember is that although Boston has broad recycling programs, much of what enters that ‘blue bin’ is still not recyclable. These facts do not mean recycling isn’t important for sustainability. Rather, they should tell us that we, as individuals, need to take greater care to recycle correctly, and that we should expend greater thought on what impact our daily choices will have, from market to disposal.
According to the EPA, each person in the US in 2018 was estimated to have produced almost five pounds of waste a day, for a total of 292.4 million tons produced. Though 94 million tons of that waste were recycled or composted, more than 60% was combusted or went to the landfill. These numbers are staggering, but it’s important to remember that each time you refill your water bottle instead of buying bottled drinks, say no to plastic silverware or disposable plates or only put food on your plate that you know you’ll be able to eat, you reduce your impact on the planet.
Imagine if you didn’t pick up that extra slice of pizza you weren’t sure you could eat, or took half as much rice or didn’t use plastic silverware. Consider that by consciously thinking about what waste will be produced before you create it; you could reduce your daily waste by one, two or maybe even three pounds a day. Then imagine that everyone at Tufts made the same effort to be conscious of their waste and use each day. Finally, imagine that when you go home for summer or spring break, you encourage your family to use and waste less through your example.
The impact from an individual creates a ripple that grows as others from within a community join in, and expands rapidly when members from one community touch the other communities in their lives, like each of their families, hometowns or future places of employment. The example you set and the actions you take will have rippling effects. Reducing our waste and ensuring that what we recycle is actually recyclable are important steps toward sustainability that each of us at Tufts can make to create more ripples.