Earth Month was last month. As any self-respecting environmentalist knows, Earth Month is the time to really show the world some respect. This past month, the University’s sustainability community sponsored by the Zero Waste Challenge for students to try to produce as little waste as possible over the course of the week. We—Sarah Mount ’20 and Emmy Hughes ’20—tried this out. And completely failed. This crosstalk is our account of the process, as well as a rant about the ways the University fails to promote campus sustainability. Enjoy.
Sarah Mount: Are you recording?
Emmy Hughes: Yes. Hello! I’m Emmy.
SM: I’m Sarah Mount!
EH: So, Sarah and I tried to do Zero Waste Week. Sarah, can you describe a little bit about what that actually is?
SM: Well, the Zero Waste Challenge is a challenge in which you try to produce zero waste for four days. We had to go four days trying to produce no waste, or at least, see how much waste we accumulate in those four days. Attempt to reduce to zero, but then collect everything you do produce.
EH: Yeah, it’s two-fold, as Sarah said: you have to try to accumulate no waste, but if you do have waste, keep track of it, so that way you can sort of see—even when you’re attempting to produce no waste—how much you actually make. So it’s like a mental thing, and it’s an environmental thing. It puts the “mental” in “environmental.”
SM: Oooh, I like that. I like that a lot.
EH: Sarah and I, for context, are both involved in the sustainability world on campus.
SM: Hey man, I run my own volunteering group that deals with sustainability.
EH: Right! You should talk a little bit about that!
SM: Okay, so Bread Salvage is a group on campus where we pick up bread from a local bakery—it’s donated bread, so I think the bakery closes on the weekends, so it technically expires during that weekend time. It doesn’t really expire, but the “best by” date is then. Best by dates are ridiculous and stupid because they don’t indicate when things go bad, they just say when things are no longer “the best.” This bakery can’t sell the bread, so they donate it to us, and we deliver it to local schools. So it works with closing the gap between food insecurity and food waste, which is a big issue in the country.
EH: Brilliant! So that’s what Sarah does, which is crazy admirable. Meanwhile, I am an Eco Facilitator, which means that I work closely with a freshman dorm, working to promote sustainable practices and mentalities within that dorm. The job can be all over the place, but those are the main components. I’m working with shortening shower times. So yeah, in essence, we both try.
SM: We both do try.
EH: Sarah tries more than I try, but we both try. And so we made this pact to do Zero Waste Week last week.
SM: Actually, we made a pact to do an eight-day zero waste challenge, in which the first four days, we collect all the trash we normally produce. They say that the average American produces four pounds of trash per day. I think it’s ridiculous, so I wanted to collect my trash to see if that could possibly be the case. And then the second week, we were going to try and really get zero waste.
EH: Yeah, so that was the goal. But I personally met with some challenges. My first challenge was utter laziness. Here’s the thing about sustainability. Even though Sarah and I are the kind of people this challenge was really meant for—people who really do care about sustainability—the fact that I completely didn’t try is indicative how ingrained non-sustainability is in everyday practices in people’s lives. Maybe. Or maybe I’m just bullshitting and I suck. But the first problem was laziness. The second thing is that in some ways, this school makes it easy to not produce waste, but in a lot of other ways it doesn’t. Like if you’re going to get a take-out meal from Swings—even if the containers are compostable, which I’m not sure they are—there’s no composting container there—
SM: And no recycling container—
EH: So it’s just not going to happen.
SM: And even if you’re eating there, a lot of times they still give you the takeout container, and the utensils are plastic.
EH: Yeah, so that’s unfortunate. And, of course, at Usdan, you get a receipt every time! You can’t not have this receipt. So you automatically have a bit of waste. I know these aren’t major challenges, and a lot of it was my own fault, as I said, but to put it in short words: I completely failed this challenge. I didn’t even bother to collect my trash. I maybe put one piece of trash in my backpack and then threw it out a few hours later. Sarah, what was your experience?
SM: So I was like, alright, Zero Waste Week, Emmy and I said we’d do this challenge. We kind of forgot about the first bit of the challenge, we kinda both mutually were like—
[Both sharply intake breath and let out a long sigh through teeth in unison]
SM: So we didn’t collect our trash beforehand. Maybe if we’d talked about it more?
EH: We didn’t talk about it much.
SM: You have to take responsibility, and we didn’t. That’s what we learned. The second part, I was like, okay, “Maybe I’ll just collect my trash and try to be zero waste-y, whatever.” And that sort of went okay.
EH: Where did the trash go?
SM: The trash went in my room. Some of it was kind of gross. I went to Weshop one day because I was late for class, and I needed food, and I got one of their sandwiches, and it had hummus. There was hummus on the package, and it was kind of gross, and I had it in my room for like a week. Not to mention that I got a quiche one day, and the quiche paper, I wasn’t sure if it was compostable or not. So quiche waxy oily paper in my room was for a long time. Eventually, I started putting my trash in plastic bags so it wouldn’t smell, but then I was just generating more trash.
EH: The package in which you keep the waste is also waste. That’s pretty deep.
SM: Funny, but also very true. It had to be airtight so the smell wouldn’t come out. In the end, nothing rotted, but I felt bad about it and my room kind of smelled a little bit.
EH: Okay, so what did we learn?
SM: We learned that being sustainable is really hard. We learned it takes a lot of responsibility and we have to hold each other accountable. And that’s difficult. It’s difficult to keep each other accountable. And it was difficult for me to keep these things this trash—I had to keep them in my backpack for a while, and I compost a lot on campus, and there’s not a lot of compost locations on campus. So if we could make things easier that would be a huge step. And also no one knows what’s compostable or not.
EH: I completely agree—it’s not to say that the University is a failure and that the students are amazing. The onus is on us, in a lot of ways, to try to be better. But it should also be on everyone. We should have composting locations all around campus.
SM: And we should take them seriously!
EH: The information is there! Just read it! So in conclusion, what we learned is, it’s difficult, the University needs to offer more places to recycle and compost, and we all need to try harder.
SM: Especially us.
Sarah Mount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.