Unearthing Your Inner Sustainability God

In the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen an extremely large influx of news about the solar eclipse, including what to do and what not to do. But something that’s probably not made its way to you on your communication channels is a phenomenon closer to home, called “Earth Day” — so I’m here to tell you a bit about it, and what to do and what not to do.

Earth Day is celebrated every year on 22nd April, in support of environmental protection. This year, the theme for Earth Day is “Planet vs. Plastics”.

It’s no secret that we at Caltech love data. So here are the numbers for LA:

  • LA County creates around 28 million tons of solid waste every year
  • About 20% of all trash is a single-use plastic item
  • Less than 10% of all single-used plastic is recycled.1
  • With the rate of consumption, the lifetime of a single-use plastic bag has been reduced to 15 minutes after purchase.2
  • It takes anywhere between 20-500 years for a single-use plastic bag to decompose.3

Even if you’ve heard these numbers before, it doesn’t detract from the fact that the state of waste processing around is atrocious. And you might think that we as college students might not be as guilty of creating waste, but that’s where you’re wrong.

Universities and schools in California generate about 562,442 tons of waste each year4. Almost half of this waste is paper, cardboard and food. That is to say, almost half of it is RECYCLABLE or COMPOSTABLE material, which is unnecessarily making its way towards landfills because people don’t take the time to segregate their waste.

Moreover, on average, each college student generates around 640 pounds of waste every year, with moving in and out contributing most significantly to waste production.5 Especially when moving out, a large portion of students tend to throw away items that they aren’t taking with them in the future — such as clothes, furniture, e-waste, and books — instead of donating or recycling them, which is extremely wasteful. Tufts University found a spike in solid waste during the months of May and June, which constitute move-out season, with students discarding an average of around 230 tons of waste.6

It’s not that hard to help make a difference — all it takes is about 10 seconds of effort every time you use a recyclable item. Next time you get a plastic cup from Red Door, just take a moment to rinse it out and throw it into a recycle bin instead of the regular trash bin. Or better yet, get your own mug! The Bring Your Own Mug program is very much active at Red Door, and it can save hundreds of cups’ worth of waste over a year, and all it takes is you spending 5 minutes washing your mug every day. It’s really not that hard.

There’s more options that you can look out for! Techers for Sustainability has Goodwill-inspired stuff swaps if you don’t want to take the 10-minute drive to Goodwill, Pasadena. This way you can reduce clothing, books, and other waste you might have and exchange it for something you didn’t have before! There’s also the Caltech Marketplace, where you can sell used items to a safe and known community. If recycling and reducing waste isn’t enough of an incentive for you to post your items on the Marketplace, it also allows you to make money off of your waste, so it quite literally optimizes everything you need.

These are just some of the things you can do in the weeks leading up to Earth Day, and even in the future! As overused as it sounds, every step truly does count. So make a difference! Do something for our planet! And if you need ideas/have comments/or want to discuss anything, feel free to reach out to sustainablyable@gmail.com or your nearest Caltech Y reps. Happy Earthing!