Student’s Corner

Waste on College Campuses: The Student Perspective

It’s clear that universities are large contributors to waste, from the food leftover in dining halls to the coffee shops that perpetuate a culture of single-use plastics. But what do our students here at the University of Rochester think the biggest problems are? I decided to go around campus and ask some students what they think our top sources of waste are and why!

The most common response I received was that single-use plastic is one of the largest sources of physical waste on our campus. Students believe that much of our waste is coming from the plastic and paper cups provided by Starbucks, Peets and Connections. These cups cannot be recycled in Monroe County, ending up in either the trash cans or contaminating the recycling bins. Another large area of attack is ‘The Pit’, one of the central food hubs that encourages on-the-go dining. Many students think that these plastic utensils, cups, containers, and paper plates generate too much waste that can be avoided by introducing biodegradable alternatives and longer-use to-go containers. One student even suggested providing each student on campus with our reusable “clamshells” to encourage students to use these instead of the single-use products provided.  

A rather controversial topic that came up was the party scene on campus, specifically in the fraternity quad. When frats throw parties that may have alcohol, they are required to purchase canned beer that must then be transferred to plastic cups. A senior in a fraternity on the U of R campus claims that if they were allowed to use kegs instead of canned beverages, this would eliminate the middleman of aluminum cans (that often are not recycled anyways) because the kegs are returned to the store and reused. However, this is a policy required by the campus. It could be interesting to look into a program that collects and cleans the cans and plastic cups after these events and sends them to be recycled properly, instead of generating these huge amounts of waste that end up in landfills. 

The final most popular response was the contamination we face. Many people don’t know the recycling guidelines of Monroe County that are constantly changing! When a single napkin, plastic coffee cup or dirty plate is thrown into the recycling, that entire bin can become contaminated and then ends up in the garbage!

Other issues that were brought up were move in and move out days, where students throw away their old items instead of donating them to be repurposed, recycled or reused, sprinklers being left on while it is raining, and allocating money and resources that don’t actually make campus-wide improvements and instead increase costs for students.

From what I’ve gathered, it seems like some sources of the problem are students not being aware of their resources, not being aware of how to utilize them or just not being able to take the time to do so. Rising junior, Class of 2021, Tamera Shaw states that “One of the biggest problems is that people don’t consciously think about the waste that they’re producing on an everyday basis”. A large part of our problem today is getting people to care enough when we live in a fast-paced world where the quickest option is often the easiest. Things like single-use plastics support this way of thinking. On the other hand, we can use this information to help educate, so that students have all the tools they need to be more sustainable and so that the University is doing its part to make its resources known and utilized! Education and an improvement on our current policies could make a world of a difference if we all join in together to create a more sustainable campus!


Written by Olivia Giovannini-Dolan, Class of 2020.

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