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Zlevor: Walkway recycling and Earth Month important

BY GUEST COLUMN | APRIL 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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With Earth Month closing the year, I usually reflect on the university’s sustainable work and ponder the crux of environmental pursuits: “Why should anyone care?”

It calls to mind George Carlin’s jarring take that: “… there is nothing wrong with the planet … compared to the people, the planet is doing great. Been here 4½ billion years. Did you ever think about the arithmetic? We’ve been here, what, 100,000? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE ARE.”

I find this to be true in my work. I have served as the sustainability liaison for the UI Student Government the past two years, working for many changes on campus, including hydration stations, Greek Energy Challenge, and most recently, outdoor recycling on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway.

Outdoor recycling was a gaping hole in our sustainability strategy, and the current pilot is a revamped version of an old pilot, which had failed years ago because of a lack of participation with too much garbage ending up in recyclers.

Knowing we are tackling an old issue from a new angle, a question in the planning was “how are we going to get students to use outdoor recycling now if they didn’t before?”

This sparked the discussion that there is a time and culture for everything, and I think we are approaching a time when students understand there’s a bigger picture outside of individual actions when it comes to our environment.

Attending a prominent liberal-arts institution has primed my peers and me to be increasingly aware; maybe because education wasn’t in the first pilot program, students simply “weren’t ready” to recycle, and I know that sounds silly.

So, when asked why I thought students would recycle now, I answered that I think students see the panoramic view more than they did in years previous. But even if we can see it, why should we act on it now and take advantage of outdoor recycling? Partly for the environment. But mostly because it demonstrates an understanding and commitment to the principle that when we make decisions that positively affect the long-term, we are investing in each other’s futures.  

In this way, I think Carlin is right that we are going somewhere, but that somewhere is pretty optimistic: We are living in a world in which being environmentally conscious isn’t just my job, it’s for all of us.  

It transcends everything: political party, racial demographic, religious affiliation, and socioeconomic background. The core of what this month asks is that you care about something bigger than yourself, while hopefully creating lasting behavioral change. This pilot program gives us the opportunity to do that.

Maybe all you do is throw your bottle in the recycling instead of the trash, but if that’s all you’ve got, then it’s enough. The beauty of my line of work is that, as a friend recently told me, it encourages you to “do all you can with what you have.”

Not only is this good advice in my field, but it’s good advice for life.  

Kelsey Zlevor
UI Student Government sustainability liaison


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