Buchaniec: We don’t have room for a product made to last forever

Catherine Buchaniec, Assistant Design Editor

This is the first in a series about sustainability at Northwestern University in light of the 2018 UN Intergovernmental Climate Report. In the report, scientists concluded that greenhouse gas pollution must be eliminated by 2050 to mitigate the major effects of climate change.

This past October, Northwestern won the 2018 Illinois Sustainability award for having “implemented outstanding and innovative sustainable techniques or technologies.”

However, as seen by the UN climate reports released last fall, the timeline to make real progress against future climate catastrophes has shrunk. If we want to actually make comprehensive change, there is no later — there is only now. The bar needs to be raised for cities, corporations and college campuses, NU included.

Since releasing its Strategic Sustainability Plan two years ago, the University has increased its electric vehicle usage and diverted a significant portion of waste to recycling and composting programs. Furthermore, new construction projects like 560 Lincoln and the Kellogg Global Hub as well as Kresge Centennial Hall, which was renovated in 2016, have received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design awards for their energy efficiency.

Ultimately, NU aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from its 2012 base line by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, according to NU’s Sustainability Roadmap.

For NU, 2050 is not soon enough. The phenomenal measures NU has implemented these past few years deserve the recognition they have received; however, more needs to be done, both at the administrative and student level. We can’t say next year or in a few years — we are running out of time now.

On the administrative side, the University needs to be more mindful of the place of single-use plastics on campus, especially in regards to beverage containers. Instead of handing out four different t-shirts during Wildcat Welcome, the University ought to cut a t-shirt or two and provide each student with an eco-friendly hot and cold thermos that could be used at the Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts in Norris University Center or at other on-campus coffee locations.

For one thing, the Starbucks at Norris, like other branches, offers a 10 cent discount if you bring your own container — for regular purchasers, those 10 cents can add up over the course of four years. More importantly, this measure disrupts NU’s contributions to the ever-growing global plastic buildup.

Unlike other materials, plastic was made to last forever. It can take centuries to decompose, taking up space in landfills and finding its way into ocean habitats. We don’t have infinite space for a product meant to last an eternity.

Our daily coffees, teas and frappuccinos add up, especially when consumers, including some students and staff, do not put in the effort to recycle. Bringing along a thermos to class or work should become second nature. It might not be the most glamorous practice, but it certainly has the potential to help alleviate the amount of waste we add to local landfills.

Along the same lines, in 2015, NU planned to phase out bottled water from campus C-stores by the end of the academic school year; yet, from my observations, this effort was not fulfilled. If you walk down to the Fresh Market, Lisa’s Cafe or Tech Express, you will see countless bottles of overpriced Smartwater.

Although the effort to ban water bottles at NU hasn’t achieved the level of success originally proposed earlier this decade, the place of single-use plastic bottles on our campus should still be debated.

For me, plastic bottles, have no place on a college campus.

Each new student in fall 2018 received a water bottle during Wildcat Welcome — it’s hard to justify buying water so frequently, especially when there are many hydration stations with clean water available in campus buildings.

Even if a building doesn’t have a water bottle filler, the Illinois Department of Public Health ensures that Evanston’s tap water from Lake Michigan is safe to drink. As a person who has been drinking water from Lake Michigan her whole life, I promise that it tastes just fine.

The last time a ban-the-bottle campaign made its rotation around campus, some argued that the banning of water would lead to more people consuming soda; however, do we really need to sell separate bottles of carbonated beverages in vending machines?

We have carbonated beverages in soda dispensers at every dining hall and we do not need to make contracts with beverage companies to sell them in vending machines as well. Additionally, when negotiating contracts with vendors such as MOD Pizza, we need to make sure that they’re not selling bottles of water when a water fountain is twenty feet away.

Even if you’re someone who frequently misplaces things, the cost of a typical reusable bottle is equivalent to that of two bottles of water from MOD or the Fresh Market. Chances are, even if you lose a bottle every month, it would still be more eco-friendly to keep buying reusable a few times per year rather than regularly adding a bottle to your MOD purchase.

From the straws in Starbucks cups to the bottles of Coke in a vending machine, we still have room to grow as a university.

As students, we need to use the recycling bins provided in our dorms and around campus, and we need to work toward decreasing our overall consumption of plastic products. It might be the administration’s job to lessen the harm done to the environment by Northwestern University, but it is up to students to lessen the harm done by ourselves.

Catherine Buchaniec is a Medill first-year. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.