As a nation, there has been a huge push to be “green.” Not meaning the actual color, but meaning to be more environmentally friendly. The motto of this push is “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” the three R’s. Recycling is not a new practice, and recycling bins can currently be found next to almost every trash can. Some places even have separate bins for paper, glass, metal and other recyclable materials. Although this seems like a vast improvement over throwing everything into one bin, what happens after you put something into a recycling bin? Many Americans think that they are being “green” and “doing their part” by recycling. However, there is no universal form of recycling across the nation. Every city and state has its own rules and regulations concerning recycling which makes the process even more complicated. The Environmental Protection Agency released statistics that 75 percent of the waste produced in the United States can be recycled but only 34 percent of that material is actually being recycled. This is a rate that has not changed since 2010.  

Are we really doing enough? The answer is no because, in this time of great innovation, the nation is not doing enough to be environmentally responsible. The recycling system is being run by large monopolies where the focus is not on recycling but on making a profit. In an NBC article, Neil Seldman, director of the Waste to Wealth Initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance said, “The reason why recycling costs so much is because the big waste management companies realized recycling was taking away from their profits. Recycling is their enemy. That’s the Achilles heel of big waste.” These big companies are in charge of our recycling and our landfills, and the processes they use are more cost effective and efficient for cities. They are convincing towns to move away from smaller recycling systems that have more lines which allows the waste to be better sorted. Instead, they want those towns to transfer their waste to the bigger recycling systems that have single lines that allow for more waste to be processed at a lower cost, but the end material is less desirable.

The nation is cutting corners at the risk of the environment. Seldman reported, “In the 1990s, about five percent of U.S. cities used single stream recycling. By 2010, 75 percent of cities were using it. Recycling is stagnating in the US not because people don’t want to recycle, it’s because the structure is the least efficient form of recycling.’” The problem is not the American people, many of us want to recycle, but our efforts are being counteracted because of the broken system. America can and should be doing more to help save our planet. However, when looking at the three R’s, recycling should be the last on our list. Americans create a lot of waste and reusing and reducing the amount of our waste is essential. Recycling is an important part of being environmentally responsible, but if we reduced the amount of waste we create in the first place there would not be a need to recycle as much.

In saying all of this, I have personally noticed a lack of recycling habits on Fairfield University’s campus. Many of us have been wondering why there is not a bigger presence of recycling due to the growing emphasis on its apparent importance. Yes, there are some recycling bins around campus, but there is a lack of them in our residence halls. In accordance with the American trend, do we really know if the things we are recycling are actually be sent to a good recycling plant?

While reading the university’s sustainability action plan I found that the university’s trash is collected by Single Stream Recycling Program. A program adopted by the university in 2011 following the lead of the town of Fairfield who currently also uses this program. It can be an effective program when used correctly. It allows customers to not spend time or thought of separating their waste. Small scale plants are able to sort the material more effectively, thus producing a more desired end material.

However, when researching about the campus’ sustainability plans, there is a lack of updated information. On the university’s website, there is a section called ‘Sustainability’ which has some updated information, but this information does not include how the sustainability action plan(s) have affected the campus. The first and last sustainability action plan was created in 2015 and has not been updated since. This means that there are no statistics about if the Single Stream Recycling Program is effective or if any other environmentally sustainable programs that the university partakes in are. There is a need for Fairfield University to create another action plan and review the old action plan. Until there is updated information, there is no accurate way to conclude whether or not we as students or as a community are being “green” enough.

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