Come Prepared

When it comes to having a so-called “green” lifestyle a few major issues come to mind that involve ones daily life, one of which is the problem of managing waste and creating less of it. Recycling has become a widely encouraged practice of waste management, but it occurs to me that perhaps we should first address the reason we have to look for something to do with all our waste: is our culture inspiring us to throw it all away?

As I reflected on this issue in the confines of a dorm room bathroom, I re-read the message from maintenance staff in the inside of the door, imploring that we students PLEASE refrain from throwing away our “Grab’n’Go” trash in the restroom, because the receptacles simply cannot handle the bulk. Grab’n’Go is the university dining option which allows students to fit their meals into disposable containers when they want to eat on the fly, and the refuse piles up quickly. With separate plastic containers for each part of the meal, it is no wonder trash overflow might become an issue.

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The simple maintenance plea speaks volumes to me about the way we carry on as a society, piling up garbage because we feel the need to “grab’n’go” on a daily basis. Nearly everything you pick up on the way through a busy day comes with its own container, utensils, instructions—whatever it is that makes this product convenient for you—which will all be trash within moments. That is, not to mention all the hidden waste that goes out the door to make on-the-go products available to us.

I suggest that reducing waste can start with carrying a backpack, or waking up a little early: anything that keeps you from filling up dorm bathrooms with dining hall trash, or filling up campus trash cans with convenience packaging, etc.

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Let’s think just about meal preparation for the moment: most mornings I wake up (several times) with slightly less time than I need to clean up and get out the door and no thought of sustenance for the day  occurs until my stomach starts growling. The easiest option for a day like this is to pick up a bag of individually wrapped foods on the way out, but maybe the smartest option would be to get up on time, pour some coffee in a glass mug and maybe eat breakfast, at the very least open up some time for a real meal later on. Taking the time to prepare a meal can mean saying “goodbye, grab’n’go.”

This sort of solution seems to be a little easier for the “non-collegiate” types who may have kitchens and money, but being a student opened my eyes to the environmental benefits of the backpack. While not always the stylish choice, backpacks do frequently offer the back-packer the amenities he or she might be tempted to snag on the road. For example, a coffee drinker like myself will likely put down more than a cup or two per day: I could buy those cups from Starbucks and pitch ‘em in twenty minutes, or I could fill up the thermos in my bag as many times as I like. Same concept applies for the increasingly popular reusable water bottles, for which most backpacks have a designated pouch. Say you’re going away for the day, of course you will be hungry… backpacks hold sandwiches just as well as that bags from McDonalds. Using a backpack can eliminate all sorts of waste, it just depends on your particular “grab’n’go” vices. It’s idea the that just a little attention and preparation can reduce waste throughout the day that makes early mornings and fanny-packs such valuable tools to the common environmentalist.

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