At last Saturday’s football game, dozens of student volunteers for s Tailgate Waste Diversion team learned the hard way that the university lacks waste consciousness.
If USC worked to develop a stronger recycling sensibility, however, it could have an incredibly positive environmental and community impact.
The need for more effective waste management has never been more dire.
, the city, which produces about 3.5 million tons of garbage annually, has to export more than 20 truckloads of sewage sludge a day to a plot of land in Kern County to comply with state laws calling for cities to divert half their waste away from landfills.
National waste management conditions are equally abysmal. Last summer, a report released by , a nonprofit based in Oakland, Calif., said that despite nationwide recycling laws, $11.4 billion in recyclable materials still make it into U.S. landfills every year.
USC, as a wealthy and influential institution with a large environmental studies department, should be taking the lead on waste management efforts in Los Angeles. But instead, students continue to default to a culture of excess.
This is largely because USC needs more of a visible, comprehensive effort to encourage recycling or composting on a day-to-day basis. The university has intentionally exchanged full-size recycling bins on campus for computer-controlled equipment designed to separate the recyclables from the waste, but these machines cannot extract food waste that could otherwise be diverted as compost. Furthermore, USC Sustainability acknowledges on its website that “pre-sorting university waste can increase diversion of recyclables.”
What better way to encourage pre-sorting than to allow students to sort their trash into recycling and compost bins? Though game days offer this option, garbage cans still far outnumber compost and recycling centers, even though the vast majority of tailgate waste — food, Solo cups and aluminum cans — is 100 percent divertible.
Expanding the opportunity for students to divert their own waste will not only reduce the number of recyclable and compostable materials going to a landfill, but also cultivate habits of waste management that students will take with them beyond campus where there might not be a machine to do the work for them.
In addition to investing in more green and blue bins, USC should organize additional events to educate students on how to recycle and compost effectively. Public service announcements have already been made on game days encouraging tailgaters to waste responsibly, an effort that is commendable and necessary. The university could also include a waste diversion component in training for residential advisers and implement a program in the housing system.
These steps would not only positively impact the national waste dilemma, but could also have a community impact through California’s .
Just a block west of campus on Jefferson Boulevard is a recycling center where, per California law, beverage containers subject to California Redemption Value can be exchanged for five cents if less than 24 ounces, and 10 cents if 24 ounces or larger.
This recycling center is the sole means of subsistence for many homeless people in the area. Particularly on game days, when recyclables abound, the neighborhood families in need will also take advantage of this service. Alternatively, students could return some of the containers themselves and use the proceeds to set up a community fund to provide meals to the homeless or sponsor beautification projects at local schools.
When we are in a position to do so much good for the environment and community, and when there is such a dire need for both the city and the nation to manage waste more effectively, there is no reason for USC not to lead the waste diversion charge. The university could implement volunteer programs where students distributes recyclables off-campus on weekends, or hire locals to assist with the recycling effort and let them keep what they collect.
We don’t encourage inefficiency in our academic or athletic departments. We shouldn’t do so when it comes to waste.
Francesca Bessey is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies and international relations. Her column “Open Campus” runs Wednesdays.