The State of Sustainability in 2020
Coming back to campus, I anticipated some changes, but they exceeded my expectations, especially with regards to sustainability. To illustrate, I went to the Douglass dining hall and sure enough, it was stripped of most tables. Reusable plates and utensils were no longer an option and Douglass was essentially converted to the “Grab & Go”, takeout style. On my way out, I stopped by the dessert station for a brownie which, surprisingly, was served in a relatively gigantic takeout box. I could not help but share this experience with my friends and dreaded estimating the amount of necessary waste generated by disposable plates alone.
Up until last semester, the University has been heavily investing in eco-friendly practices, from a reusable mug program to EV charging stations. Now, it’s disheartening to reverse many of these efforts due to the pandemic, but we know that it is for a greater good. The restructure of the dining hall is just one instance of how our new world is distancing from certain eco-friendly practices out of necessity. Public health safety is of the utmost importance and should not be neglected. That being said, it’s important not to confuse precautions to mere carelessness. For example, face masks are often disposed of improperly, a litter problem that should not be excused.
In this new era, where certain disposable items are indispensable, it is not utopic to ask the pressing question “can we do better?”. Against all odds, the answer is yes! There are many simple solutions that balance public safety and sustainability. Circling back to dining, I came across this Instagram post of University Dining encouraging students to purchase personal reusable silverware to reduce waste. Bringing your own utensils to the dining halls is definitely a healthy, no-risk habit to cultivate.
This question of safe sustainability practices extends beyond the dining halls and the campus life. Some researchers for example are working day and night on safe, reusable PPE to lower global carbon footprint while keeping us healthy. You can do your part in protecting the environment by proactively questioning your actions: How can I stay safe in an eco-friendly manner?
Written by Kelly Jean, Class of 2021