The Daily Gamecock

Column: Students need to be more sustainably aware on campus

Students need to take into account how their everyday actions on campus could be negatively affecting the environment's well-being and take basic steps to be more sustainable. 

According to Connecticut's Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, the average college student generates about 640 pounds of solid waste per year, which includes 500 disposable cups and 320 pounds of paper. That means in one school year, U.S. college students are generating over 200 million tons of waste combined, according to Busch Systems. Inevitably, some of that waste will never make it into a garbage or recycling bin. 

By deciding not to recycle trash and throwing empty cans and bottles into bushes, students are creating a negative impact on the environment and others around them. 

According to Carolina News and Reporter, much of the waste from Five Points makes its way to the creek that runs through Maxcy Gregg Park. Cook Out cups, styrofoam containers and plastic bags are easily swept away due to their lightness and buoyancy, therefore making them a popular sight in the creek. 

Additionally, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, plastic does not break down like natural substances do. Instead, the plastic breaks apart into tiny pieces called microplastics or nanoplastics. When left in water, plastic becomes contaminated, then contaminating the organisms that live in it, which humans eventually eat. Scientists discovered that close to 90% of protein sources from grocery stores carry these tiny plastics. 

There are a few ways to explain why students might engage in unsustainable behavior. They might be living life on autopilot and not thinking about how their actions will affect the well-being of the environment. Or, when hearing the word “sustainability,” students might think of large-scale issues such as climate change, greenhouse gases or global warming and assume the issue is too big for them. 

But according to the United Nations Brundtland Commission, sustainability is merely defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In other words, just be more mindful about your actions and their future impacts. 

Now, that is something students can achieve. But how?

Maddie Nordberg, a fourth-year environmental science student and campus outreach project coordinator for Sustainable Carolina has a few ideas. 

“There are so many ways you approach sustainability that are important for everyone. Sustainability is a global effort. It involves everyone, and you learn ways to make it approachable,” Nordberg said.  


For starters, she said to bring a reusable cup to Starbucks. As many students know, Starbucks is one of the most popular places on campus to grab a quick coffee in between classes or for a library study session. In a statement from January, Starbucks announced that customers would be able to use their own cups for in-cafe, mobile and drive-thru orders. For in-cafe and drive-thru orders, customers can simply tell the barista they would like to use their own cup. For mobile orders, customers can hit the "Customization" button and select the "Personal Cup" option. After they arrive, they hand the barista their cup, into which they will transfer the drink. 

“If you’re getting coffee every day, and you start bringing your cup every day, that’s seven cups a week,” Nordberg said. 

In addition, Nordberg suggests thrift shopping for clothing instead of participating in the uptick in fast fashion. "Fast fashion" is a term that refers to the mass production of cheap clothing that tries to keep up with the latest trends. This creates an immense amount of air and water pollution, just like the plastic waste from Five Points. 

Although it can be difficult to not order from Amazon or other fast fashion websites, USC's campus does have alternatives. For example, the thrift markets on Greene Street that appear about once a month offer an array of thrifted clothing, such as t-shirts, sweatshirts and dresses. In addition, the Soda City Market on Saturday mornings has all kinds of vendors who make and sell their own products. 

Another way to keep up with sustainability is to simply ensure that one's waste makes its way to the garbage bin instead of the streets. Picking up five pieces of trash on or around campus can make a small difference now, but a big change later. Imagine if the entire student body picked up five pieces of trash in a day — that would completely change the area's landscape. Not to mention, the trash would not pollute the water or even get close to landing in waterways like the Maxcy Gregg Park creek. 

Nordberg said she encourages students to not listen to those who tell others that sustainability is a task beyond their reach. “No matter what someone tells you that, ‘Oh, using a reusable cup is not going to do anything,’ it does in the long run,” she said. “Don’t doubt yourself.”  

Overall, students have no excuse not to be sustainable at a basic level, as it positively impacts themselves and the environment in which they live. Realizing just how easy it is to become more mindful about their everyday actions can keep the definition of sustainability alive and relevant.


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