Taking a deeper look at sustainability

Danielle Zukowski

Grand Valley State University is the grandest and greenest of the valleys, right? Our university has been strongly associated with the environmental sustainability movement.

GVSU is recognized “locally, regionally, nationally, and globally for applied sustainability best practices on campus and in the community,” according to the Office of Sustainability Practices. In unity with this value, we strive to reduce our impact on the environment.

Attaining sustainability requires innovation. Utilizing unique and creative perspectives will allow higher achievability of environmental consciousness. In light of the reformed Campus Sustainability Advisory Council, member Jim Bachmeier encourages this type of thinking, saying, ”we’ve done an incredible job at being environmentally sustainable through recycling, composting, and energy-saving efforts, but it’s now time to look at how sustainability is integrated into all facets on campus.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Now is the time to explore other areas of waste minimization. Let’s recognize specific threats to the environment and examine our contribution to them. One major problem being recognized by the zero waste community is that of disposable plastics. Plastics will not decompose, leading to a significant issue of pollution, animal ingestion or entanglement. They also contain toxins that could be hazardous to health. Plastics are a huge problem.

What has our community done to reduce this issue or to further its consequences? Well, campus dining has created many compostable containers for food and a recycling program for plastics 1-7. On the other hand, the C-store, the P.O.Ds, and the lobby shops are lined with so many non-recyclable plastic wrapped candies. We live in a disposable culture. It’s our way of life to buy something wasteful and pricey because it’s quick. Therefore, our campus convenience stores are feeding into our single-use tendencies.

If we are not fighting against the issue, we are contributing to it. A visionary way to combat the plastic problem would be to create a bulk food candy store. Line the aisles with the usual suspects – M&Ms, Cheetos, Oreos – whatever is available to place in bulk containers. Instead of buying these snacks in individual packs, we would have the option to buy different amounts. Amounts that are more suitable to us. Amounts that would hopefully reduce at least plastic waste.

Students could be encouraged to bring their own reusable bags or jars. A paper bag could also be offered if a student does not have their own. The bag could be made from post-consumer recycled paper, which could then be recycled again after use.

However, this should be considered a secondary option. Composting and recycling are very important for the future of our world. However, why recycle or compost something that never had to be used in the first place?

We need to begin refusing and reducing before we put plastic into a rotation of recycling until it inevitably ends up in a landfill. The end product is still the same, and that’s what we need to reduce.

Don’t get me wrong: recycling is infinitely more environmentally conscious than just tossing something in the landfill, but let’s try to figure out how we can avoid that need in the first place when possible. Providing this type of market could reduce environmental impact, empower students to incorporate sustainability into their own lives, bring more business to campus, and maybe reduce some of the weight gain that follows misleading package servings.