UConnapalooza, sponsored by the University of Connecticut Residence Hall Association, occurred on April 22, 2023 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fairfield Way. The Earth Day Campus Clean Up sponsored by EcoCaptains for the Office of Sustainability occurred simultaneously. Some activities from UConnapalooza included decorating styrofoam plant pots, customizing tote bags and spinning a wheel for prizes such as hats, shirts and water bottles. Although the free goodies and activities were fun, it seems almost ironic how UConnapalooza created more potential waste while the campus clean up simultaneously promoted students to pick up litter scattered around our school.
When students were in line to customize their own tote bag, they could choose what their tote bag was going to say and what colored design they wanted. However, each time a student stated what design they wanted, one sheet of paper with colored printer ink was thrown in a giant cardboard box. Now, it is likely that the people in charge of the station were going to properly recycle the used paper once the event concluded, and yes, inked paper is recyclable, but that does not hide the fact that all of the paper usage was wasteful. Not to mention it was a very windy day and some of the box’s contents did fly out.
To me, a more worrisome activity occurred at a station where students could get a free plant and decorate their own styrofoam plant pot (which they may or may not later swap for a sturdier clay or ceramic pot). But whether or not students will keep the styrofoam plant pot they decorated, the issue itself is the material used. According to Jeanne Perrine from “31 Styrofoam Facts That You Should Know About,” she describes how polystyrene, the material that styrofoam is made from, is polluting our oceans just like plastics are. The material is lightweight, and if it is not properly disposed of, it will be carried “from streets and storm drains out into the ocean.” She goes on to warn how “approximately 1369 tons of styrofoam are buried in US landfills every day.” That is alarming, especially when we can do something to minimize this waste. Suzanne Downing from “Reader’s Digest” also warns her readers how we should not put styrofoam into recycling bins because there are only some processors that can recycle it. At this point, our university was basically greenwashing￼ which is defined as “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image;” while our university preaches sustainability in dorms and throughout our campus, they create events that cause more potential environmental hazards.
The school should not make the assumption that students who decorated a styrofoam plant pot will either keep the styrofoam or know how and where to dispose of it properly. If a student just wanted the plant, they may very well toss the styrofoam cup in the trash and replace the pot. That will only add to landfills, and if a landfill accidentally accidentally catches fire, then the burning styrofoam can release harmful chemicals which pollute our air quality and the environment. Styrofoam also cannot be recycled everywhere; according to Climate Action Specialist Leigh Ratterman, “In order to recycle Styrofoam, recycling processors must invest in specialized machinery to process the material into condensed blocks.” Since not every recycling center is equipped to recycle this material, students would have to know exactly where they can recycle styrofoam in order to prevent further pollution.
Whether or not the material is going to be recycled or handled with care is not the point. More importantly, UConn should not make the assumption that the provided styrofoam will be properly recycled as its improper disposal can cause more pollution and waste in our environment. Instead, a possible replacement for this activity is that students can decorate small clay pots, which students are more likely to keep, instead of styrofoam ones. Also, instead of using printer paper to customize tote bags, students should be able to customize their tote bags with markers or other materials. If obtaining these materials is more costly than styrofoam pots and printer paper, the activities can be modified so that they convey similar environmentally-conscious messages without providing students with wasteful materials.
There are so many different activities that are enjoyable and eco-friendly, and we must remember that every little bit of waste adds up.
Love all the advice and tips for promoting sustainability, I just wanted to point out that the pots used for the event where actually clay, they were painted white so students could customize them easier, but they where clay pots not styrofoam. Just wanted to clarify since that was one of the major issues of the article. Also that day was very windy and that’s why we had people specifically gather all the papers that flew away, no litter!