Emerson gets an F for its three Rs

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • April 16, 2015

At issue: Emerson students don’t recycle enough.

Our take: College should make recycling more accessible.

Look in any trash bin on campus, and chances are you’ll notice something buried inside that should have been recycled. The problem seems silly: In this day and age, why can’t Emerson students just be better at properly recycling their waste?

With our disappointing performance in this year’s Recyclemania, a national sustainability competition, in which the school placed 158th out of 232 schools by amount recycled—lower than last year—it is evident that there is a lack of enthusiasm about recycling on campus.

There are several reasons for this. One may be that Emerson students are simply too busy—or lazy—to hang onto their recyclables long enough to find the proper bin. And while that seems like a miserable excuse, Emerson’s facilities aren’t providing enough options for students to properly recycle all of their bottles and plates.

There doesn’t need to be another thinkpiece decrying that Emerson students are swamped, often moving from class to job to class to meeting to internship, all in the span of a day. This propensity for the hectic can leave lots of Emerson students eating lunch (or breakfast, or dinner) inside the classroom.

Unfortunately, too many classrooms on campus still do not feature recycling bins. That means if you have a four-hour class on a Tuesday night, you are most likely going to be throwing some sort of food or drink container into your classroom’s trash instead of wandering the hall for the nearest recycling bin.

The Colonial Building and Piano Row are both recognized for their sustainable architecture and construction practices from a certification program called Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. The new Los Angeles center is also vying for LEED recognition. But the spirit of that certification shouldn’t stop at the building.

Eric Van Vlandren, the college’s sustainability coordinator, said that there are over 100 recycling receptacles across the Boston campus. That’s a good start, but evidently not enough. The administration doesn’t need to overthink this: Anywhere there’s a trash can, add one for recycling.

As a school that prides itself on progressive thinking and innovation, we should continue to make larger efforts to improve our recycling program as a whole. The new system that allows all recyclables to be deposited in same bin, instead of having to be sorted, is a positive step. We can also look at other school’s recycling programs. For example, Chatham University in Pittsburg is able to recycle the cooking oil used in its kitchens and turn it into biofuel. And across the river, Harvard University saves 25,000 gallons of water per year by collecting rainwater.

Perhaps the deepest problem goes back to Emerson’s lack of a cohesive college culture. Half of Emerson’s students live off-campus, and there are few spaces for students to truly mingle. It can be hard to feel a sense of belonging in these transitory halls, and thus hard to feel a sense of responsibility. A true commitment to green practices would require students to believe that they still have a duty to be sustainable here, even though their stay at Emerson is only temporary. As Van Vlandren said, we can’t just focus on recycling for a two-month competition—it must become a priority year-round.