When it comes to being “green” these days, almost everyone says that they are with the environment. On our campus, most students agree that climate change is a problem that needs to be solved, and in the most recent College Council elections, both presidential tickets thought it necessary to either boast about their past efforts to make our campus sustainable or include such measures to do so as part of their campaign platform.
However, when our “greenness” is quantified, we aren’t as sustainable as we claim to be. Williams is currently competing in Recyclemania, a 10-week competition between colleges across the nation that measures our recycling and waste rates. And, in comparison to last year, our recycling rates haven’t improved; they’re still the same. While they are acceptable, the percentage of our waste that we recycle ranges from the mid-30s to the low 40s – a range that is still less than that of other schools of comparable size in the NESCACs.
For a school filled with students who are proud to say they are environmentally conscious, we seem to overlook the important role that recycling plays in making our campus and the world sustainable. Recycling reduces carbon emissions because it takes less energy to recycle than it does to make a new product from raw materials. When you recycle a piece of paper, you not only save a tree, you also help to save the oil that was used in the machine that cut down the tree; you save the oil that was used in the truck or train to move the tree; and you save the oil or coal that was used to turn that tree into piece of paper. From a purely climate-change viewpoint, recycling helps to stop global warming by reducing the amount of fossil fuels required to make everyday products.
At Williams, we’re always told that we are one of the best colleges in the nation. We take comfort in knowing that academically we’re at the top and that in sports we are the best in our division. So why is it that when it comes to being sustainable and “green,” something we proudly proclaim to be, we are only at the middle of the pack?
Gershwin Penn ’11