In the past year or so, being environmentally conscious has become the mainstream, and anyone who doesn’t prioritize the environment was stigmatized as being apathetic. The increased pressure to be environmentally friendly soon expressed itself through movements like recycling, banning plastic bags and using paper or metal straws instead of plastic ones.
On the outside, these movements within the younger generations have seemed like a big step and a hint that maybe Americans were finally starting to care about the environment. However, when looking deeper, the truth about the actions we think and were told would help the environment, may not be so helpful after all.
Take recycling for instance. In Newark specifically, the process and steps required to recycle are a lot more nuanced that we are led to believe. The city and the university promote recycling by providing recycling bins and encouraging it around campus. However, most of what we recycle actually ends up in the landfill. Unknown to many students, if you bag your recycling, then it ends up in a landfill. If your recycling has over a certain amount of garbage in it, then it ends up in a landfill. If you recycle any items that are meant to be trash, then it ends up in a landfill.
At face value we’re recycling, but we’re really not. The same goes for getting rid of plastic bags and plastic straws. The alternatives to those still create waste and the production of reusable bags and straws both release emissions into our air.
Carrying around metal straws and using Hydroflasks has become a very popular habit among many environmentally-conscious college students. Sadly, the fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter if you have a metal straw if everything else is being thrown in the trash.
There has been a genuine interest among many people to be more environmentally friendly and take more steps to do so, but we want these steps we are taking to mean something. If we don’t know where our recycling is going or the truth behind how much reusable bags and straws are actually helping, then we can never make a real change.
Even with this information, people will still be inclined to continue these habits since not doing these things comes with an inherent shame. The stares when you take out a plastic water bottle in class definitely go noticed and in the age of young activists like Greta Thunberg, a lot of young people want to join the cause.
Everyone should still want to do everything they can to better the environment, but it’s important we actually know how much of what we’re doing is helping. The city as well as the university need to be more transparent about where our recycling is going as well as the correct steps involved in recycling. If some sort of flyer was presented to students or RA’s incorporated sustainability practices into their freshman orientations, then the campus as a whole would be more knowledgeable about how to be sustainable.
Individual actions is one of the most important aspects of addressing environmental issues. Nothing changes if the problem isn’t being addressed from every level. While these actions do matter, they have to be the right actions and currently in Newark, systematic issues are halting our efforts to be sustainable.
This editorial is written to reflect the majority opinion of The Review staff. This week’s editorial was written by Jessica Leibman, Copy Desk Chief. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.