USC needs a stronger recycling culture

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.

Max Rubin | Daily Trojan

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.


9 replies
  1. Danica
    Danica says:

    Ms. Bessey,

    As an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California, I think you raise some very important issues that are affecting USC. Sustainability is a topic that needs to be sincerely grappled with to make a change. Your article began by citing specific statistics regarding the amount of garbage produced in Los Angeles, which was an important tactic to illustrate and set up the kind of problem that is at hand. An amount of 3.5 million tons of garbage is a lot of trash and a lot to handle. With these staggering statistics, it is important to question how, more generally, Los Angeles, and, more specifically, USC will be able to tackle the task, creating a more sustainable environment. Although your article questions the strength of USC’s recycling culture, my research shows that the university is on the right path. It offers big belly trash compactors, recycling programs, and new green tailgate programs during football games. Since your article raises questions regarding this need, how do you think the campus can raise awareness and make permanent changes? What could be considered enough? I would love to see specific examples of what this could look like.

    Throughout this semester, I have been observing USC’s relationship to the community; however, it has not yet occurred to me that there is a significant connection between USC, the community, and the environmental efforts, which was a powerful piece of information to provide. As you mentioned, the Beverage Container Recycling Program appears to be an important way for the homeless in the area to make money; however, apparently there is a rule enforced by DPS preventing and arresting outside people from retrieving cans and bottles from on-campus trash bins for recycle.These community members are willing to help recycle those cans that are most-likely thrown into the wrong garbage cans, while providing themselves a means of survival. Do you believe this rule could be placing an invisible barrier between the university and its community? Your idea that students could return some of the cans to the center and then use these funds to help support the homeless will help USC further engage with the community. I question how difficult it would be to get students involved in this way. Nevertheless, this could be extremely powerful if implemented correctly. It could be started in specific environmental clubs, such as USC’s Environment First club, where students could spread this idea and set up events to recycle cans and use the money to benefit those in the surrounding community. I appreciate the concerns you bring up in your article.

    Danica Ruberti

  2. Ras
    Ras says:

    The author makes the mistake of conflating ” a culture of waste…” with not being environmentally conscious. These are not mutually exclusive. One of the reasons people tend to be turned off by all the talk about being environmentally friendly is that the sanctimony is really unbearable. I would like to know how often the author takes the public metro instead of driving the car she drives. Get real.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Dear Francesca,

    Please grow up and concern yourself with important issues.

    Every USC student with a mental age of over 12 years

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      On my part, I take pride in the fact that I have never recycled anything (bottles, batteries, metal, glass, paper, etc.), and I plan never to do so. Pity any effort over the course of your life will be more than undone by me….

        • Anonymous
          Anonymous says:

          Although there are some marginal benefits derived from recycling aluminum, recycling paper, for example, seems silly. Visit a tree farm and you will see that there is no shortage of paper—in fact, it takes less energy to produce new paper than to repurpose old paper. For some reason, people are convinced that old growth forests are being cut down to make copy paper. That just isn’t true.

  4. Ras
    Ras says:


    You can start by composting the coffee grounds at Starbucks when you get your first big job with your Environmental Studies degree!

  5. Dan
    Dan says:

    Amen to everything above! As an Environmental Studies grad I can confirm that composting has been a long-standing item on our wish list. I remember carrying out a survey of freshman dorms in 2008- recycling awareness among the student body was embarrassingly low.

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