Neustadter: Recognize the root causes of consumer waste

Corinne Neustadter

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Here at Colorado State University, sustainability is apparent in many facets of daily life. In most dining halls, there are composting and recycling opportunities, and most coffee shops offer compostable cups or discounts for bringing your own cup.

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In February, CSU was also granted a Platinum rating under the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System for the third time, one of only five universities to be granted the Platinum rating, arguably making it one of the most sustainable campuses in the world.

However, CSU still generates a significant amount of consumer waste. In March, The Collegian reported that the Lory Student Center, which sees roughly 20,000 people per day, can’t recycle about 98% of the waste it generates.

Seeing that thousands of students frequent the LSC per day, consumer waste, including unrecyclable food containers and contaminated recycling, contradicts CSU’s sustainability efforts while signifying a larger problem in the United States today.

exampes of compost, recycling and landfill are showcased in the stadium
Examples of compost, mixed recycling and things that go to the landfill sit on top of the assorted bins to show stadium attendees how to separate their trash. (Brandon Mendoza | The Collegian)

The Environmental Protection Agency reported that the amount of generated municipal solid waste, which refers to trash, totaled 267.8 million tons in 2017, roughly equivalent to 4.51 pounds of waste per person, per day. While some of this waste is unavoidable, this number was about a 6 million ton increase from 2015. Consumer waste is an ever-growing, persistent problem in the United States that threatens to engulf us if we don’t take action to reduce it.

The question of what to do with trash has repercussions across the nation, even here in Fort Collins. The Larimer County Landfill will close by 2025, with the City considering sending trash to a new landfill north of Wellington, Colorado.

While Larimer County has plans to divert 30% of the total waste from landfills through a new construction and demolition waste processing facility, reducing everyday consumer waste is a more proactive and easier approach to sending less waste to the landfills.

For much of human history, our modern-day concept of sanitary landfills simply did not exist. In fact, the first modern landfill was not built until 1937, and it is widely accepted to be the Fresno Municipal Sanitary Landfill.

With the amount of active landfills that now exist in the United States, a little over 3,000, it is staggering that the majority of American waste sitting in dumps today has only been produced in less than a century. For much of the United States’ history, the manufacturing infrastructure was fairly inefficient, as the assembly line was not implemented until 1913.

Pushing consumers to make better choices without acknowledging the companies that push single-use products absolves the companies of any responsibility — which is dangerous and unproductive.”

After the Industrial Revolution, wealth began concentrating in the upper echelons of society, and laws to protect workers and hold factories accountable during the early 1900s began to take hold.

In today’s era of rampant consolidation and corporate influence, wealth inequality trends are alarmingly increasing, and wealth concentration is returning to levels not seen since the 1920s, according to the Washington Post.

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In this context, the accumulation of waste and its presence in American society could be viewed as an unintended consequence of the Industrial Revolution and a parallel to the rise of capitalism in the United States.

Yet, there is a large burden placed on the consumer to reduce their own waste. There are entire companies centered around reusable metal straws, grocery bags and food wraps.

While consumers can help mitigate their plastic and unrecyclable waste, pushing consumers to make better choices without acknowledging the companies that push single-use products absolves the companies of any responsibility — which is dangerous and unproductive.

Without substantiated policies that limit unrecyclable waste — and potentially by association, unfettered capitalism — trash will continue to be a destructive problem that can’t be lessened with a good sustainability rating.

Corinne Neustadter can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @CorinneN14.