Editor’s Column – What Ever Happened to the “Three R’s?”

Geoff Guenther

It is not an uncommon sight for the people who live on my floor to see me hunched over a trash can. This is not to say that I am in the habit of being sick or that I have some undue fascination with garbage. No, it is another matter entirely which brings my attention there.

It usually starts in the morning, while I’m walking to the shower. I see the glint of a few aluminum (let’s just say beverage) cans sitting on the top of the big silver trashcan. So I casually pick them up and deliver them the two feet to the recycling bin. Why not? It only sacrifices a few seconds, and then I proceed about my day.

Going to class or leaving for lunch, I notice a few more cans and bottles, sitting atop the trashcan, inches from the big recycling bin marked “Cans and Bottles.” “Well,” I’ll think to myself, “These cans and bottles are not in their proper place.” So I’ll take them out and transfer them to their rightful home.

That’s how it started out, at the beginning of the semester. I didn’t really think much of it then. It wasn’t like it was a big deal or anything. It was just something I did.

Walking to a friend’s room in another hall, I’d notice more cans and bottles lying inches from the recycling bin. I’d casually pick them up and move them a few inches. I asked my friend once whether he recycled or not and he said that he didn’t. This was inconceivable to me. How could someone just not recycle when the recycling bin was literally adjacent to the trashcan? He said he just never had been in the habit.

My problem with taking bottles and cans out of the trashcan and moving them to the recycling bin escalated. I started digging further and further into the trash, seeing more cans and more bottles. I’d use paper towels to move the grime out of the way so I could get more and more out to move them to the recycling bin. It became a habit. On my way back from class I’d check the trashcans next to my room for recyclables. It was not a very healthy obsession.

I wrote an article a few months ago about the Green Bikes program and other green initiatives on campus like using recycled paper and napkins, offering biodegradable silverware at the Coop, using organic fertilizer and burning wood chips to supply heat and hot water to campus. But how can we expect to become a remotely green campus if people just “aren’t in the habit” of recycling?

Another friend, after seeing me pick some bottles out of a trashcan, said that he had recycled at home, but now that his parents weren’t there to scold him if he didn’t, he just didn’t. This troubles me. The idea that the only reason someone does something good and responsible is to avoid the consequences of not doing it makes me worried. Just because we’re at college doesn’t mean that all self-responsibility flies out the door.

How hard is it to reduce your impact on the environment? In this rigorous academic environment, I would say it is one of the easiest things to accomplish in a day. Especially when recycling versus not recycling means a difference of three seconds out of your day, there is no excuse for not doing it.

Regardless, I don’t consider people who choose not to recycle to be bad or evil. I’m not crazy and I know I’m not perfect. I certainly no longer dig through the trash to find bottles and cans. I’m not haunted at night by images of (beverage) cans and Dasani bottles laughing at me. Sorry if this was a bit of a rant, I guess the smell of the trash got to me.