Reduce waste to reduce landfills

Editor’s Note: Sustainability is a column granted to the Student Sustainability Task Force by the Editorial Board to discuss issues of sustainability on the Rensselaer campus and around the nation.

Recently, I walked into Commons Dining Hall to eat dinner with my friends. Music was playing and necklaces were being handed out. Oh, it’s Mardi Gras, we realized. I took a necklace to be polite, not knowing if I’d do anything with it.

Now, while some people might use these necklaces for some purpose, most people will probably place them in some soon-to-be-forgotten corner or throw them out.  To each person, the thought of throwing out one necklace will not be a huge concern.  However, when you add up all those unwanted necklaces that are thrown out, the impact becomes a bit bigger.  Think about all the events every year at RPI alone where memorabilia is given out.  Some things are kept and treasured, while others are not. Events like these are held throughout the country and the world.  You might remember getting party favors when your friends celebrated their birthdays, or toys from fast food restaurants.  Sure, those little toys were fun to play with after you got home and finished your candy or fast food, but after a few days, there wasn’t much to do with them.

Maybe this isn’t a huge problem. However, landfills around the world are filling up. The fun favors from birthday parties, dining hall events, and the like are being thrown out as the recipients realize they’re just taking up space. In 2000, the average American produced 4.65 pounds of waste each day. This waste, of course, includes packaging from food and other products, disposable items, and so forth, but clearly, reducing waste by any means is a plus for the environment. Favors from birthday parties, toys from fast food meals, goodies from dining hall events, and mementos from other occurrences are hardly a favor for the planet.

So what should you do?  Be mindful when you plan events. Will people actually use the party favors you give out, or will they be tossed in the trash right away? Personally, I like getting shirts from events (unless there are so many ads on them that I feel like a walking advertisement). It saves me money since I have to buy fewer clothes, and the shirt reminds me of the fun I had at the event.

Of course, Commons handing out shirts would be both too expensive and kind of weird, so I certainly am not advocating that as a solution here.  When you receive little toys and memorabilia that you realize two days later are just crowding your room, try to get rid of them responsibly.  There’s probably a good chance that they aren’t recyclable, but if they are, recycle them. Alternatively, see if some goods can be given away to charities.  As for me, my younger siblings will probably be happy to get my necklace.