For those of you that missed the memo, this past Sunday was Earth Day. Earth Day is, of course, celebrated annually by college students who make fun Facebook posts and take those extra few steps to the recycling bin. This year, though, we should all strive to carry through with our positive changes all year, not just for one Sunday. We can all do more to make a difference, and it’s on us to do so—and some of the biggest changes we can make come in the ways we eat our food.
With all that in mind, as a flawed food-consumer myself, here is a list of goals that you and I can work on together to reduce our personal carbon footprint and work to slow climate change.
1. Composting/recycling properly
Recycling and composting are both excellent for the environment and pretty simple to do once you get the hang of it. Wesleyan makes it especially easy, with composting buckets in every dorm and single-stream recycling cans almost always within your sightline. That being said, both take work. Compost bins are a little harder to find and might require you to hold onto your banana peel for a few extra minutes, whereas recycling bins require a little bit of forethought before you throw things in. Some of you may not know (as I didn’t) that in the state of Connecticut, we don’t have to worry about greasy pizza boxes. The whole box can be thrown in recycling, along with containers with food remnants and the like—think some peanut butter stuck at the bottom of the jar. Just be sure to make an effort to take that extra step, and wash (or wipe out) glass and plastic before you toss it in recycling. Those extra few minutes could make the difference in where your containers end up. For more information about on-campus recycling, you should check out our recycling webpage.
2. Limiting food packaging
Everyone knows that the less waste you put out into the environment, the cleaner our planet will be. That’s a no-brainer. But it’s also important to keep in mind that even if you are recycling your waste, chances are that some of that is still ending up in a landfill (or, in CT an incinerator—still not ideal). The bigger, and longer-lasting, solution, then, is to limit waste more generally. A good way to realize just how much trash you produce is just to let it build up for a week—reach the end of that week, and you can see how much plastic and greasy cardboard you are personally contributing to the environment.
On campus, there are ways to cut down on waste and still enjoy your food in bed. Late-night has recently made the move to eco-to-go only, which, if you aren’t expecting it, can be a bummer. So consider this your official warning. It’s a good thing, though, since those old takeout containers were non-recyclable. ’Swings paper boxes are compostable, but their plastic isn’t (obviously), so try to limit how much of those you’re taking out. Maybe try ordering it to stay and bringing your own Tupperware to carry it out with you. Not the best option, but it’s better than nothing.
3. Eliminating food waste
The logical next step, here, is to limit how much waste from the food we produce. You may have seen the “Clean Plate” challenge in Usdan lately, which is a terrific way to make us think about the food we are tossing. Less food waste means less waste in general and more food that can go to populations in need in the greater Middletown community. This one is simple: Try to be more mindful of how much food you take when you eat a meal at Usdan. You can always go back and get more, but any food you put on your plate and don’t eat goes right to waste. This can make a big difference both to the environment and people living nearby who need the food that would otherwise go to waste.
4. Going meatless
Alright, look. I never promised that all of these would be easy. This is difficult. But it’s also probably one of the biggest ways that you, the reader, can make a difference in your everyday life. With 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions coming from livestock, reducing your amount of meat intake can be really beneficial to the environment. Try going a day a week without eating meat. There are plenty of options here on campus to make it easier for you. If you’re super dedicated (or already a vegetarian), you can ramp it up to a totally plant-based diet for a day a week and take whatever steps you want to take from there. The biggest problem here isn’t actually from emissions; it’s more about land and water resources—26 percent of the ice-free land on this planet is devoted to livestock farming, and 33 percent of cropland is used to produce feed for animals. Even lowering our collective meat consumption a little bit can free up that land for crops that we can eat and that can go to feeding undernourished and malnourished people.
This might sound like a tall order, but at the end of the day, we need to do whatever we can for our planet and the people on it. The things we eat—and the way we eat them—are as good a place as any to get started.
Spencer Arnold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been amended to reflect CT waste management practices, including garbage incineration and recycling of items with food remnants.