The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Tomorrow is trash day

The GreenMan | Tuesday, April 5, 2011

For those of you who have managed not to be bombarded with a “days of the week” refresher from Rebecca Black in the last two hours: Since today is Tuesday, tomorrow will be Wednesday. However, more importantly, tomorrow is also trash day, but not your ordinary “day-everyone-sets-their-trash-outside-on-the-curb” kind of trash day. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Tomorrow, I challenge you to not use trashcans at all.

Hold on, before you think the GreenMan is encouraging littering, let me explain. This week, almost 200 Notre Dame students have signed up to participate in No Impact Week, a week-long challenge to reduce the environmental impact of their daily lives. Each day of the week has its own theme, and tomorrow’s theme is trash. The goal for the day is to generate absolutely no trash. So let me clarify my previous statement: Tomorrow, I challenge you to not need to use trashcans at all.

Fortunately, this challenge should be incredibly easy at Notre Dame. We have a fantastic single-stream recycling program, so the only things that should be going in a trashcan are food and liquid wastes. I repeat, only food and liquids go in the trash. Everything else can be sorted by our recycling facility. This means that for us, Wednesday’s challenge, taken at face value, is all about not wasting food.

I would like to clarify, however, for those of you who love semantics, that even if you don’t directly place your food waste in a trashcan, it still counts against you in this challenge. I’m thinking specifically about the food left on dining hall trays here. You may not personally scrape the food into a trashcan, but the workers behind that magical conveyer belt sure do.

I know it’s been said in Viewpoint letters before, but the food we waste in the dining halls really does have an impact. The statistic that more than one ton of food is wasted in our dining halls each day is an embarrassment to our campus. Many people knowingly and unknowingly participated in Waste-Free Week last week, which entered students into a raffle for 100 Flex points if they turned in a clean tray at dinner. Props to everyone who was entered into the raffle. To the rest of you: Consider yourselves called out. This challenge is for you.

Another way to avoid the trashcan is to opt for composting. So if you want to be able to leave leftovers on your plate without feeling quite so guilty, help campaign for a composting program. Notre Dame doesn’t have one yet, and students showing support for an initiative is one of the best ways to make it happen. Post a dining hall comment card, write a student government resolution or take matters into your own hands and create a compost pile for your dorm.

Although the challenge for tomorrow is simply not to throw anything away, the ultimate challenge is to not recycle anything either. Wait. Did the GreenMan just tell me not to recycle? No, let me explain myself before you start clamoring to take away my “green” card. The traditional environmental adage is “reduce, reuse, recycle,” and I would like to suggest to you that these commands are not listed in a random order, but are actually prioritized according to their environmental benefit. Sure, recycling is great, but reusing is better and reducing is best.

Reducing your consumption doesn’t have to be drastic. It doesn’t mean you can’t go get Starbucks, but it does mean you should use a reusable mug when you do. It doesn’t mean you can’t go shopping, but it does mean you should purchase long-lasting products rather than disposables and transport them back in a reusable bag. So for one day (or more), I challenge you to keep track of the impact of your consumption. Make a list of everything you dispose of in one day, then multiply by 8,000 to get an idea of the impact this campus has.

The GreenMan is an anonymous eco-conscious observer of life at Notre Dame, providing environmental commentary and advice to the campus community since 2010. Feel free to email your environmental living questions to the GreenMan at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.