Increased awareness to reduce Earth’s pollution

Small steps to cut down on waste can provide a solid foundation for Queen’s future

Students have difficulties when deciphering where to put their trash.

When I was little, I had a book about sharks — I read it all the time and took it with me everywhere I went. In it, there was a chapter on how the pollution people create affects our oceans and poses a great risk to the lives of the animals that live within it. This book was how I first learned that plastic water bottles never actually decompose. Instead, they pollute the ocean forever. 

Even as a child, learning these facts completely terrified me. 

Instantly, I became passionate about recycling and would talk about it whenever I could, making me probably the most annoying eight-year old ever. The more I learned about how pollution affects our planet, the more my obsession with marine life began to grow. My fixation quickly turned into a love for the environment and a strong desire to protect it. 

At Queen’s, the foundation is set for us as students to positively impact our surroundings. Unfortunately, people often disregard or don’t understand the systems that are in place to guide us. Specifically with regards to recycling and plastic waste on campus, we, as a community, seem to be doing poorly. In my opinion, Queen’s needs to create more awareness for plastic consumption. As well, we need to start creating a higher diversion rate for our waste to help combat our earth’s pollution. 

With so many recycling bins on campus, it may appear as if plastic waste isn’t an issue. The reality is, while the different bins on campus often have info graphics illustrating what goes where, I have found that many people are still confused as to how to decipher the various images and instructions. This confusion contributes to the problem of improper recycling and the creation of more landfill waste. Many people don’t understand  if unrecyclable products incorrectly end up in recycling bins, the entire bin is considered waste and will end up in a landfill instead of a recycling plant.

With worldwide pollution increasing at an incredibly alarming rate, it is imperative that we all act to combat it. Most of the plastic products we use are created merely for packaging and are designed for one-time use only. The planet’s current plastic consumption rate is an epidemic that is leaving our ecosystems — especially our marine ecosystems — extremely vulnerable.

Queen’s has already taken great measures to increase sustainability and to cut down on plastic waste, like banning plastic water bottles, for example. However, I believe there is more we can do. There are so many plastic products used on campus that can be reduced. For example, revealed in the 2016 Queen’s waste audit report, 99.76 per cent of plastics disposed of in Leonard Hall last year were made from unrecyclable materials, meaning that they will be in a landfill indefinitely and will contribute to our growing plastic problem. 

Individual actions — like rectifying this example of incorrect disposal — can have a great impact. Cutting down on waste by doing things as effortless as using reusable bags when shopping, bringing your own coffee cup when visiting coffee shops and cutting down on using one-time use products are simple yet effective steps we can take on campus. 

Another important way we can reduce our consumption is by eliminating plastic waste items, such as straws or unnecessary packaging to help curb the overall amount of plastic waste produced on campus. Many of these ideas are so simple yet are not being implemented. For example, cashiers at on campus stores such as Grocery Checkout could discontinue their supply of plastic bags to encourage people to bring reusable ones. Additionally, they could provide reusable containers instead of plastic containers for bulk goods stored in the back. These relatively small changes would make such a major impact.

During my time at Queen’s, I have had the opportunity to join clubs focused on increasing sustainability and have seen first-hand how motivated students can be to make better choices for our planet. There is a large community of students and clubs that are dedicated to fighting climate change and initiating sustainability on campus. 

I really believe that because of this, we have a good foundation to start pushing for these changes and drastically improve the way we consume. Many other universities have already taken steps to drastically cut down on their waste. I believe that with as many clubs and resources as we have on campus, we can follow suit and bring in more eco-friendly products. 

In an institution as big as Queen’s, our waste reduction could have many positive effects on our planet and could even inspire change on other campuses. Because we have this opportunity, it is so important and necessary that we take advantage of it. 

By cutting back on plastic production and eliminating waste consumption, we will have taken one easy, yet impactful, step to help ease the complex global issue that is climate change. 

As we all work towards our futures here at Queen’s, we should also be working for our planet’s future as well.

What we need now as a campus community is a commitment to challenge what many fear is an inevitable social condition and to ensure there will be no more room for ignorant excuses.

Becca Schmidike is a fourth-year Global Development Studies major. 

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